College football week 11 yielded perhaps the single biggest upset of the year in terms of the impact on the BCS. But other than Stanford’s win over Oregon on Thursday night, we saw more or less what we expected to see in terms of the major players. South Carolina, Clemson, and Ohio State were all idle. Oklahoma State, Missouri, Auburn, Baylor, and Florida State coasted. UCLA won a close one against Arizona, but that was predictable given the talent level of those involved. The only hiccup among the Top 15 teams, outside of Palo Alto of course, was Texas A&M’s trouble with Mississippi State, and though that game wasn’t what it should have been for the Aggies, it was never really in doubt in either.
Back to Stanford’s win.
At the risk of rubbing salt into Oregon’s wounds, it’s worth pointing out that we’ve seen this narrative play out before. Many times, in fact. Oregon often looks like a world-beater until it faces a tough defense. When the high-scoring, high-flying offense meets a front seven with the ability to control the speed of the game, bad things happen to the Ducks. Factor in Stanford’s ability to control the clock while on offense, and the recipe for yet another upset was complete.
Many of us, myself included, didn’t really see this coming. Refusing to learn from history, and therefore doomed to repeat it, I didn’t think this season’s Stanford team was quite as good as the squads that have topped Oregon in recent years. Apparently I was mistaken. And just like that, the Cardinal are in place to go to the Rose Bowl (at least) while the Ducks may have to sit and wait for an at-large berth in the BCS.
Here’s the best and worst from college football week 11.
Best Win of The Week: Alabama 38, LSU 17 in Tuscaloosa
In case you doubted, Alabama is still the nation’s best team. Yes, really, and no, we don’t need a debate. With all due respect to what Florida State it doing, the Tide are the defending champions and now have convincing wins over Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, and LSU in addition to their dominating victories over the regular mix of SEC foes.
‘Bama surrendered 42 points to the Aggies, though anyone who watched the game knows that it wasn’t nearly as close as the seven-point margin indicates. Moreover, that’s the onle time this year that Alabama has surrendered more than 17 points.
In fact, in their other eight wins combined, the Tide have yielded a total of 53. If you’re scoring at home, that’s less than a touchdown per contest. Some may be quick to point out that those numbers include the likes of Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Colorado State. Leaving aside the individual debates about how good some of those teams have been against other opponents, Alabama allowed zero to Ole Miss, 10 to the Hokies, and now 17 to a Tigers team that came in averaging more than 40.
On the season, even with the A&M aberration thrown in, Alabama is yielding 10.6 points per game, best in the FBS.
LSU does deserve credit for making a game of it in the first half. And if not for a couple of ill-timed fumbles, the game might have been tied, or even in LSU’s favor, at the half. However, those who want to hang the loss on two plays– fullback J.C. Copeland’s fumble at the goalline and the muffed exchange in LSU territory– are ignoring some obvious truths. Most relevant to the final margin of victory were two factors: LSU’s complete inability to stop Alabama’s ground game, and Alabama’s inability to hang on to interceptions. Had the Tigers done a better job with the former, this 21-point thumping might have been much closer. Had Alabama defenders not dropped or otherwise mishandled four gift-wrapped throws by Zach Mettenberger, things would have gotten far more out of hand.
So while the pair of fumbles did indeed hurt LSU, it was the mistakes that the Tigers got away with that helped keep things close until the third quarter.
Before halftime LSU thrived on third-down conversions (they were six of seven at one point). Alabama’s inability to get its defense off the field was painful to watch; drives were a repeating pattern of two failed plays and a perfect Mettenberger throw on third-and-long. But the second half was a complete different game.
Total yardage in the first half? 231-201 in favor of LSU. Second half? 219-87 in favor of Alabama. In the fourth quarter LSU mustered a grand total of -9 yards from scrimmage. The difference maker was the ‘Bama ground game. Touchdown drives of 79, 71, and 78 yards respectively put the 171-17 game out of reach. During that span Alabama ran 32 plays to LSU’s seven. A mercilessly heavy dose of T.J. Yeldon (25 carries, 133 yards and two touchdowns) and Kenyan Drake (ten carries, 65 yards) proved to be the kryptonite for an overmatched Tigers’ defense.
Though Mettenberger finished with a nice night (16 of 23 passing for 241 yards and a touchdown), LSU couldn’t run the ball consistently and couldn’t stop ‘Bama when it mattered. The win, and Oregon’s loss, set up a clear-cut top two in the BCS standings with the Tide and Seminoles.
Honorable Mention: Baylor 41, Oklahoma 12 in Waco
Well, well…Baylor is more than just a preposterously explosive offense. The Bears’ defense keyed the victory over Oklahoma by shutting down every facet of the Sooners’ attack. Phil Bennett’s stop unit overcame costly penalties and a damaging first-half safety, allowing Baylor to turn its slow start into a blowout finish. The Bears look like the clear-cut favorite in the Big 12.
Worst Win of the Week: Arizona State 20, Utah 19 in Salt Lake City
It’s not that Utah isn’t a quality opponent. The Utes, despite their inconsistency and struggles throughout the season, would pose a challenge to all but the nation’s elite. However, Arizona State is a great position in the Pac 12 South. The Sundevils control their own destiny, and the strength of schedule at the end of the year could position them with a very nice final ranking when all is said and done. The win over Wisconsin, bogus and ill-deserved though it was, is looking better with each passing week, and closing victories over Oregon State, UCLA, and Arizona would leave voters with a good impression of ASU regardless of how the Pac 12 title game were to shake out.
Of course, all of this presupposes that the ‘Devils can find a way to beat these three foes. UCLA poses a particular problem in that a win for the Bruins would leave the two squads knotted in conference play while giving UCLA the head-to-head tiebreaker. That’s why Saturday’s matchup at Utah has to be a disappointment. It should have been a tuneup for the upcoming games that will matter most, but it was, instead, more than 57 minutes of hell.
Arizona State looked awful in the passing game, and if not for a nice performance by tailback Marion Grice (20 carries, 136 yards), the Sundevils’ comeback victory might never have happened. That they needed a comeback in the first place is perplexing; Utah had come into week 11 with back-to-back double-digit losses at Arizona and USC. That they needed so much help from the Utes themselves makes the Sundevils a very shaky bet going forward.
Utah racked up 80 penalty yards, a pair of interceptions, and grand total of 247 yards from scrimmage in this one. Self-inflicted wounds overrode the nearly 33 minutes of possession and the second turnover killed Utah’s last-ditch effort to get into range for what might have been a game-winning field goal.
Yet even with the assistance, ASU couldn’t muster a convincing effort. QB Taylor Kelly finished 19 of 31 passing for a mere 144 yards. He did have one touchdown toss and added two more short scoring plunges on the ground (robbing Grice, by the way) but was generally not effective. 176 of the team’s 293 yards came in the fourth quarter, a period that turned ASU’s 19-7 deficit into a nailbiter victory.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Texas A&M 51, Mississippi State 41 in College Station
The Aggies continue to prove that however good Johnny Manziel may be, games will always be in doubt so long as this defense is on the field. Barring wins over the Sunbelt’s Troy and FCS opponent Alcorn State, the Bulldogs hadn’t scored 30 points in a single game this year, much less 40. Their previous high, away from home, was 20 against Auburn. A&M can score in bunches, but these games resemble a revolving door with both teams marching into the endzone.
Upset of the Week: Stanford 26, Oregon 20 in Palo Alto
Virginia Tech blowing up Coastal Division favorite Miami doesn’t warrant more than this brief mention; that’s how significant Oregon’s loss is. There was sure to be endless arguing over which two of the top three undefeated teams (Alabama, Oregon, Florida State) would vie for the National Championship and which would be left out. That is now moot.
With Stanford’s upset victory, Alabama and Florida State are nicely separated form the rest of the pack (sorry Ohio State and Baylor) and the Cardinal are in line for a Rose Bowl berth. Sure, that assumes no more surprises, which is a dangerous assumption in college football. But we’ll see how the rest of the year plays out.
On Thursday night it was all Cardinal for three quarters of play. Up 7-0 after one, 17-0 after two, 23-0 after three, and 26-0 with about 11 minutes remaining, Stanford was both relentless and dominant. From there, it was just a matter of withstanding the furious rally we all knew would come sooner or later.
Unfortunately for the Ducks, later was too late.
Frankly, the scoring pattern tells the story. Roughly half of Oregon’s 312 yards came in the fourth quarter as they scored three times with the help of a recovered onside kick and a blocked field goal. Prior to that outburst, it was all Stanford, all the time. The Cardinal held the ball for better than 42 minutes of play. They ran the ball an asburd 66 times, including 45 carries for Tyler Gaffney, who redefined the term workhorse with his 157 yards.
The game’s progression was the epitome of the “run it until they stop it” philosophy of football. After the first couple of series everyone knew what was going to happen, yet Oregon remained powerless to stop it. Stanford averaged just a hair under 4.8 yards per play. Aside from one long pass of 47 yards from Kevin Hogan to Michael Rector, the Cardinal had nothing over 20 yards. The usual cliches are incredibly apt in this case. Stanford was grinding. It was a battle in the trenches. It was a game of ball control. It was moving the chains. it was fundamentals.
In those scant moments when the Stanford defense actually had to take the field, it was stout. Even with garbage time thrown in, the Ducks were limited to less than 5.4 yards per play and 62 yards on the ground. Contrast those totals with what they did against the likes of UCLA (6.9, 325) and Washington (7.8, 265). Granted, the ground game was taken out of the equation after a point, and the Ducks ran the ball only about half the number of times they did in those other games. Yet even on a per carry basis, the Cardinal slashed their output.
As a reward, Stanford jumped to fourth in the BCS standings ahead of the undefeated Baylor Bears.