College Football Analysis: Best and Worst of Week 10

| by Sports Nickel

We had hoped that the ballyhooed LSU-Alabama matchup would yield excitement.  We had hoped that its winner would be heralded as a clear favorite to capture the National Championship.  Instead we got a  plodding, mistake-filled mess.

Defensively, the game of the year delivered everything fans could want.  The 9-6 overtime final says it all; these two stop units were spectacular against powerful offensive attacks.  But it’s hard to come away from the matchup with any sense of closure.  LSU got the win, but was outplayed by a significant margin.  Alabama was the better team, but now needs help to get back in the hunt.  And it’s not even worth discussing the Tide’s kicking game.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State, Stanford, and Boise State kept on winning, setting up what should be yet another controversial finish to the regular season.  Oh BCS, how we hate you.

Best Win of The Week: Arkansas 44, South Carolina 28 in Fayetteville

In a week that had LSU and Alabama hogging the headlines, it was the Razorbacks who ended up being the most impressive SEC West team.  By stifling the Gamecocks, who are vying with Georgia to represent the conference’s weaker division in the SEC title game, Arkansas served notice that it is still a threat to muck up the BCS standings.  Remember that the Hogs have a date with LSU at the end of the season, and if they were to pull off the upset they could effect a three-way tie in the West.

That’s still a long way off, but the present is looking bright for Bobby Petrino’s squad.

If there was any lingering doubt about the power imbalance between East and West, it was answered by Arkansas’ lopsided win.  A victory that might have been even larger.  The Hogs were up 3-0 after their first drive and would have doubled that but for a missed field goal.  And after allowing a South Carolina touchdown, Arkansas bounced back into the lead courtesy of a Dennis Johnson kick return of 98 yards.

A terrible decision by UA quarterback Tyler Wilson put SC ahead briefly in the second quarter; Wilson was wrapped up for a sack and threw the ball blindly in an ill-considered attempt to get rid of it.  Devin Taylor snatched it out of the air and rumbled 48 yards for the score to go up 14-10.  But thereafter Arkansas managed to stay in front.

Following the Gamecocks’ point after, Wilson hit Jarius Wright for a 68-yard touchdown on a one-play drive.  The duo hooked up again before halftime to push the lead to 24-14.  South Carolina’s Connor Shaw engineered a short drive after a 55-yard kick return by Victor Hampton, but the Razorbacks bounced back with a second field goal to go up 27-21.  A third successful kick made it 30-21 until Shaw found the endzone from a yard out and cut the lead to 30-28.

The fourth quarter was all Arkansas as a pair of rushing touchdowns set the final score and iced the win.   The offense was obviously productive, and the UA defense limited SC to 207 total yards.  In watching the performance, one couldn’t help but wonder how good the Hogs would be had tailback Knile Davis not been lost for the year.

Honorable Mention: Texas 52, Texas Tech 20 in Austin


Worst Win of the Week: Michigan State 31, Minnesota 24 in East Lansing

It has become increasingly clear the Big Ten is a league hampered by parity and mediocrity in 2011.  Each time a program rises up and appears to take control of the conference, it follows success with a costly stumble.

Erstwhile Big Ten master Ohio State was taken out of the equation early on.  Michigan appeared to be ahead of schedule before getting slammed by the Spartans and losing to Iowa.  Illinois’ September triumphs gave way to a predictable swoon.  Wisconsin was a favorite, looking good against weaker foes until it dropped consecutive games on fourth quarter letdowns.  Michigan State was flying high after knocking off those Badgers, but was slammed by Nebraska.

The Spartans did their best to take another step backward in Week 10, barely surviving a Minnesota team that should have been a soft spot in the schedule.

Granted, the Gophers have come on of late, topping Iowa and standing toe to toe with MSU.  But there’s no excuse for letting the game be this difficult.  Michigan State was actually outgained 415 yards to 402 and needed a fourth quarter touchdown to avoid what would have been a crippling upset.

Kirk Cousins did his job well enough, passing for nearly 300 yards and avoiding any real mistakes.  And power back Le’Veon Bell did well, gaining 96 yards on just 15 carries.  But feature back Edwin Baker had another costly, just like in the Wisconsin game, and the herald Spartan defense was victimized by an inferior opponent.

It could be the team was overlooking the lowly Gophers.  Whatever the explanation, MSU barely escaped despite two takeaways and a halftime lead.

Honorable Mention: Oklahoma State 52, Kansas State 45 in Stillwater


Upset of the Week: Northwestern 28, Nebraska 25 in Lincoln

The ‘Huskers came in looking good after winning three consecutive conference games.  Ranked #10 and seemingly recovered from their blowout loss at Wisconsin, they appeared to have ironed out any offensive deficiencies.  Moreover, Nebraska had outscored Ohio State, Minnesota, and Michigan State by a combined 99-44.

Northwestern, on the other hand, was 1-5 in Big Ten play, allowing nearly 40 points per game.  Their only league win had come against Indiana.  Talented QB Dan Persa seemed unable to stay healthy, and the Wildcats were struggling to find any consistency.

But from the start, this game seemed destined to go Northwestern’s way.  The offense survived a fumble and the defense forced a pair of Nebraska punts before Persa marched the ‘Cats 80 yards for the opening score.  That touchdown staked Northwestern to a lead that it would never relinquish.

Nebraska managed a first half field goal, but went to the break trailing 7-3.  The Blackshirts then allowed a second score by backup QB Kain Colter after Dan Persa left with a shoulder injury, and found themselves down by 11 before Taylor Martinez and Tim Marlowe hooked up for a touchdown midway through the third quarter.  Still down 14-10, Nebraska played tough for the rest of the period, but began the fourth by coughing up an 81-yard strike from  Colter to Jeremy Ebert that put NW up 21-10.

The teams then traded lengthy touchdown drives, with Nebraska adding a two-point conversion that cut the margin to ten at 28-18.  Martinez managed one more score in the game’s final minutes before Nebraska ran out of time.

When Persa was forced out, it appeared that the Wildcats’ upset bid might be over.  But Colter stepped into the gap and filled it admirably.  He finished 4 of 6 passing for 115 yards, numbers keyed by the Ebert TD.  Colter added another 57 yards on the ground, including two scoring dives from short yardage.

In the end, Northwestern did everything it needed to do to beat a superior foe on the road, and Nebraska was left scratching its head.

Honorable Mention: Iowa 24, Michigan 16 in Iowa City