Sports

College Football Analysis: Best and Worst of Week 4

| by Sports Nickel

Week 4 of college football was marked by a pair tough tests faced by a pair of SEC West titans.  Open your calendars to November 5th and circle the date in red.  Because that’s the day that LSU travels to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama, and it could well be the only time either of these teams takes a loss.

It may be early to begin speculating on which schools might survive to go undefeated, and the SEC is a particularly brutal proving ground that does not often allow such feats.  But if this weekend’s results were any indication of talent, both the Tigers and Crimson Tide are dominant forces that just may be able to find that elusive perfect season.  Alabama destroyed #14 Arkansas by 24, and shortly thereafter, LSU marched into Morgantown and blew the doors off of West Virginia.

Each of these victors already had a quality win under its belt; LSU crushed Oregon in week 1 while Alabama stonewalled Penn State in Happy Valley.  So what we saw on Saturday can’t be considered surprising.  However, the margins of victory left little doubt as to just how good these squads are.  With due respect to other top teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Boise State, the SEC West powers are clearly the teams to beat at the moment.

There were a handful of other critical contests in week 4 as well.  Clemson powered past Florida State with a surprising offensive display; the Seminoles’ D that fared so well against the Sooners was nowhere to be found.  Arizona State found itself again after falling to Illinois, and Okie State made a statement in its comeback win over Texas A&M, Justin Blackmon’s sloppy play notwithstanding.

Best Win of The Week: Alabama 38, Arkansas 14 in Tuscaloosa

Alabama obviously came into this matchup as the favorite, and with the homefield advantage it was no shock to see the Tide win.  However, this is a good Arkansas team, and ‘Bama made the Hogs look downright useless.  The final spread had the hosts favored by 11.5 points.  ‘Bama had that nearly covered by halftime.

Statistically, the Tide rank second in the nation in scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, and total defense.  They rank third in passing yards allowed and rushing defense.  But make no mistake.  This is the best D in the country by a fair margin.  Arkansas, ranked #14 coming in, was held to a mere 226 total yards, and only 17 on the ground.  17 rushing yards is typically one drive, or even one play, not an entire game.  Not from a quality team.

The ‘Bama defense is frighteningly quick and powerful and applied consistent pressure to the Arkansas backfield.  The unit’s highlight of the day came when DeQuan Menzie picked off Tyler Wilson and returned the grab for a touchdown.

Then there was the special teams.  On three of his four punt returns, Marquis Maze averaged an impressive 14 yards.  But the big blow came when he brought one back 83 yards for a touchdown in one of the best-looking special teams’ runs of the season.

The there was Trent Richardson and his 7.4 yards per carry average.  He racked up 126 on the ground in a power running display that had fans forgetting all about Mark Ingram.

The least impressive aspect of Alabama’s play was the passing game, which speaks volumes considering that A.J. McCarron complete 15 of 20 attempts for 200 yards and two scores.

Honorable Mention: LSU 47, West Virginia 21 in Morgantown

*****

Worst Win of the Week: Illinois 23, Western Michigan 20 in Champaign

Just one week ago, Illinois pulled out a very nice home win by knocking off Arizona State 17-14.  The defense racked up six sacks while controlling Brock Osweiler, and Nathan Scheelhaase managed the Illini offense effectively aside from a turnover problem.  Still, the giveaways finished even at three apiece, and Illinois clearly earned its win.

Just one week ago.

But on Saturday, the same team barely survived Directional Michigan.  How does that happen?

Simply put, Illinois couldn’t stop Western Michigan’s passing game, as Alex Carder completed 30 of 48 attempts for 306 yards and two touchdowns.  In contrast, Scheelhaase managed to go 14 of 20 for only 133.  That disparity helped the Broncos hang with the 24th-ranked Illini throughout the contest.  A fourth-quarter field goal at around the eight-minute mark was the difference maker.

To put this in perspective, WMU came in as a 2-1 MAC team with wins over Central Michigan and FCS Nicholls State.  The Broncos had gotten blown out by the Wolverines in week 1 in Ann Arbor.  There was no reason to think that their second crack at the Big Ten would go any differently.

Illinois rumbled for a combined 296 rushing yards as tailbacks Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young both cracked the century mark.  But despite that success and the accompanying time of possession of more than 35 minutes, the Illini barely hung on. In fact, they trailed at halftime before regrouping for the three-point win.

The lackluster victory killed any momentum the team had built after its week 3 upset.

Honorable Mention: Syracuse 33, Toledo 30 (OT) in Syracuse

Upset of the Week: Temple 38, Maryland 7 in College Park

Odds are you didn’t get to see this game.  I did, and I can tell you that it wasn’t even as close as the lopsided score indicates.  Temple completely devastated the Terps, scoring on all five of its first-half possessions and leading 31-0 at the half.

Remember that Maryland opened the season with an impressive win over Miami, and at that time it appeared that the Terps might be a factor in the ACC.  Then came week 3′s disappointing loss to West Virginia in which QB Danny O’Brien tossed three interceptions.  But despite that setback, Maryland would surely handle its business against the MAC, right?

Wrong.  For one thing, Maryland was defenseless against Temple’s stud tailback Bernard Pierce.  One of the nation’s best backs, Pierce put on a first-half display rarely seen, finding the endzone four times and racking up 108 of his eventual 149 rushing yards.  The play fo the game was his 44-yard explosion in which he ran past the Maryland defense like it was standing still.  Pierce finished with a school record five touchdowns.

Temple QB Chester Stewart didn’t need a big day with Pierce doing most of the legwork, but for good measure he completed all nine of his attempts for 140 yards.  Nothing like a perfect passing day to put the icing on the cake.  Defensively, the Owls held the Terps to 240 total yards, including only 45 on the ground.

Maryland was forced into passing situations almost immediately, but O’Brien tossed another pick and was generally unable to move the ball.  A garbage time touchdown from his backup C.J. Brown was the only thing that prevented a humiliating shutout.

Honorable Mention: Kansas State 28, Miami 24 in Miami

AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…

John MitchellMatt StroblZach BigalkeBrandon Weeden, QB- Oklahoma State: After the first half Saturday in College Station, it looked like Oklahoma State was dead in the water after having fell behind 20-3. But, Brandon Weeden led a second half rally that propelled the Cowboys to a 30-29 win over Texas A&M. Weeden passed for a school record 438 yards on 47/60 passing and two touchdowns to no interceptions.Bernard Pierce, RB- Temple: With due respect to Alabama’s Trent Richardson and his 211 yards from scrimmage, it was Pierce’s monster rushing day that stole the show.  Not only because of the whopping 32 carries, but also because Pierce was the catalyst in Temple’s crushing 38-7 upset win over Maryland.  Pierce finished with 149 yards and a ridiculous five touchdowns in the rout.  That’s a season’s worth of scoring for some backs.LaMichael James, RB- Oregon: In a venue that has long been a graveyard of Duck dreams, last year’s Heisman finalist rejuvenated a flagging campaign and set several school rushing records. His 288 yards broke the single-game record set ten years ago by “The Original Whizzinator” Onterrio Smith. His touchdowns of 12 and 19 yards also broke the career Duck touchdown mark, in the process tying and then surpassing the 42 scored by Derek Loville while in Eugene. Quieting critics that said his strength training in the offseason had reduced his killer speed, James finished with 303 all-purpose yards on just 25 touches..