Sports

College Football Analysis: Best and Worst of Week 8

| by Sports Nickel

Hail Mary?  Hail Sparty. 

Few people gave Michigan State a chance against a Top 5 Wisconsin team that came into Week 7′s tilt looking unstoppable, offensively.  But the Spartans proved more than equal to the task, and set themselves up as Big Ten favorites with a monster win.  However, the upset was hardly alone.

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The Week 7 scoreboard was riddled with pivotal victories, from Miami’s 24-7 trouncing of Georgia Tech to Purdue’s 21-14 win over the ranked Illini to USC’s beatdown of the Irish in the South Bend.

The Top 10 was shaken.  Conference standings were jostled.  And college football proved yet again that it will always have some surprises in store.

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Best Win of The Week: Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31 in East Lansing

A week after stomping Michigan and a week before facing divisional foe Nebraska in Lincoln, the Spartans drew a date with mighty Wisconsin.  And while Michigan State had already toppled two traditional league powers, the Badgers were expected to assert themselves as an elite BCS contender.

Coming into Spartan Stadium, Wisconsin  looked every bit the Top 5 team, getting off to a punishing start and rolling MSU 14-0 in the first quarter.  It all began with an 11-play, 80-yard drive featuring tailback Montee Ball, who accounted for 43 yards on seven carries before QB Russell Wilson found Jacob Pedersen for the game’s opening score.

MSU took possession and immediately erred; an Edwin Baker fumble set up Wisconsin at the Spartan 30.  This time Ball had the honor of finding paydirt.

Michigan State’s next drive was slightly more successful, but ended in a punt.  It was a seminal moment in Michigan State’s season.  Already down two scores and facing Wilson and the Badger offense yet again, how would the team respond?  A third consecutive Wisconsin score might seal their fate, but could the Spartans defense rise up when needed?

Obviously, the answer was yes.

Trenton Robinson picked off a Wilson pass deep in Spartan territory on the sixth play of the drive, swinging the momentum in Sparty’s favor.  The next march flipped the field position, and after a punt, Wisconsin found itself backed up.  An intentional grounding flag led to a safety, and from there the floodgates opened.

Michigan State scored a trio of touchdowns in multiple ways- wideout Keyshawn Martin running in the first, quarterback Kirk Cousins finding his favorite target B.J. Cunningham for the second, and a blocked punt for the third.  The 14-0 deficit was forgotten, and a 23-14 halftime lead had dramatically changed the game’s complexion.

The third quarter featured only a Wisconsin field goal as the respective defenses took control.  But MSU opened the fourth with a touchdown drive that including a two-point conversion and a resulting 31-17 lead.  Once up 14, the Badgers now found themselves trailing by the same, needing a comeback of their own.

And they got it.

A big punt return set up a score, with Ball and Wilson breaking off a long run on the three-play drive.  Down just seven, Wilson was intercepted again, and it appeared to be a game-ending miscue.  But the Badger defense held, and on the ensuing march Wilson drove his team 87 yards on just eight plays to tie it at 31.

Amid the dramatic back-and-forth, a minute and a half remained on the clock.  Plenty of time for Cousins and his receivers to play hero.

Following a Wisconsin timeout, from the Wisconsin 44, Cousins heaved a Hail Mary to the endzone.  It found Cunningham’s facemask.  It found the swatting hands of the Badgers’ defense.  And ultimately, it found Keith Nichol who snared it and bulled his way across the plane of the goalline.

With that burst of effort, a game that seemed all but decided at so many different points finally ended with a crushing defeat for the #4 Badgers and a spectacular win for the Spartans.

Honorable Mention: Oklahoma State 45, Missouri 24 in Columbia

*****

Worst Win of the Week: Arkansas 29, Ole Miss 24 in Oxford

We (I) had been giving Arkansas a lot of credit for being a very good team.  With only a loss to Alabama marring their record, the Razorbacks had a pair of nice wins over Texas A&M and Auburn, and were hovering at the edge of the Top 10.

But beating the Aggies wasn’t easy, requiring an 18-point comeback.  Little did Arkansas know it would need a similar effort against the lowly Rebels.

Ole Miss is not a very good football team, particularly relative to its SEC competition.  And yet for most of Saturday’s matchup, the Rebels owned the Hogs.  Ole Miss possessed the ball for nearly 40 minutes, and outplayed favored Arkansas for roughly 45.  The Rebels held a 17-7 halftime lead after a poor showing by Tyler Wilson and the UA offense, but a bad third quarter ended up costing the home team its upset.

The Razorbacks didn’t score until late in the second quarter, when desperation fueled an 80-yard drive highlighted by Dennis Johnson’s 52-yard rumble to the endzone.  Prior to that play, it had been all Mississippi, all the time.  Prior to that successful Arkansas drive, Ole Miss had outgained the visitors 196 yards to 49.

But just as in the A&M game, the Hogs managed to turn the tide.

In the third quarter, Arkansas took over with scoring drives of 56, 69, and 75 yards, adding a safety and taking a 26-17 lead.  With that 15-minute burst, the Razorbacks simply needed to hang on.

Mississippi played the better fourth quarter, allowing a field goal but scoring a touchdown to trim the lead to the eventual 29-24 final.  But the 17-point comeback was sufficient as Arkansas moved to 6-1.  Even so, it’s hardly a win to be proud of.  And with South Carolina, Mississippi State, and LSU remaining on the schedule, the Hogs need to step up their efforts to avoid a late-season collapse.

Honorable Mention: Boise State 37, Air Force 26 in Boise

*****

Upset of the Week: Texas Tech 41, Oklahoma 38 in Norman

This could have easily been filed under Best Win of the Week, but the nature of the matchup practically demands that it be recognized as a true upset.  The difference between Michigan State and Wisconsin wasn’t so great; the gap between the Sooners and Red Raiders was thought to be much larger.

In fact, the #3 Sooners were, in the minds of many, on par with the two SEC titans atop the BCS Standings.  And at home in Norman, OU had been all but unbeatable.  Its 39-game home winning streak was tops in the nation.  And the last five times that TTU had come to Memorial Stadium it had suffered five bad double-digit losses by a combined score of 232-80.

So despite the fact that Tommy Tuberville’s offense had fared well against quality opponents, there wasn’t much hope for Texas Tech.  And yet from the starting whistle, it was the Raiders in full control.

Oklahoma looked completely unprepared.  Perhaps the Sooners were looking ahead to Kansas State.  Perhaps they were dismissive of the 4-2 Raiders, whose best wins were a one-point squeaker over Nevada and a victory over Kansas.  Regardless, it was an inspired Tech team that came out of the tunnel and punched them in the mouth.

On the opening drive, TTU QB Seth Doege found Alex Torres for a 44-yard touchdown strike to put the Raiders up 7-0.  OU responded with a 69-yard TD drive of its own, keyed by a 55-yard Roy Finch rush.  From there, the first quarter swooned into series of stalled drives.

However, the second quarter began with a burst of excitement as Tech drove 78 yards to the endzone, going up 14-7.  D.J. Johnson then forced Oklahoma’s star wideout Ryan Broyles to fumble after a 27-yard grab, and the Raiders capitalized with a seven-play march that put them up 21-7.

A field goal before the break sent the teams into halftime at 24-7, and there was no letup in the third.  Doege engineered another touchdown drive that pushed the lead to 31-7 before Landry Jones struck back with a long scoring connection to Kenny Stills.  The Sooners added ten more unanswered points and were down 31-24 early in the fourth quarter.

At the moment, Tech might have been bullied into a loss.  At that moment, the swinging momentum might have gotten the best of a plucky Red Raiders team.  At that moment, might OU could have undone a poor firs half.

Instead, Doege continued to strike as the Raiders added a field goal, then a touchdown to go up 41-24.

To its credit, Oklahoma didn’t fold.  Jones connected with Jaz Reynolds for 55 yards, cutting the lead to 41-31.  But a missed field goal one the tema’s next possession seemed to be the final nail in the coffin.  Tech was forced to punt, but ate a critical minute off the clock.  While OU was able to score a touchdown using only 35 seconds, the dwindling time forced the Sooners to try an onside kick.

When it failed, so did Oklahoma.

Honorable Mention: Syracuse 49, West Virginia 23 in Syracuse

AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…

Brandon Weeden, QB- Oklahoma State: Granted, the Cowboys got plenty of help from an error-prone Missouri team, but their 21-point win on the road was significant.  Even moreso when you consider the losses by Wisconsin and OU.  Weeden continued his stellar 2011 with another monster day, completing 33 of 49 passes for three touchdowns.  He did have one interception, but Weeden’s numbers were marred far more by the team’s numerous drops.  His receivers had six of them in the first quarter alone, accounting for all of his incompletions in that period.  Weeden should have completed 40 or more, and would have if his teammates had been on point.

Alex Torres, WR- Texas Tech: Sure, he only touched the ball four times during Saturday’s game… but those four receptions were a stake through the heart of the Sooners’ national-title dreams. The first, a 44-yard TD pass from Seth Doege, came just four plays into the game. The second was a mere 9-yard play on 1st-and-10 on the Red Raiders’ third drive. His third catch, a 30-yard strike from Doege that put Tech up 21-7 after a fumbled kickoff by Oklahoma, extended a lead that the visitors would never relinquish. And to seal the deal, he caught an 11-yard pass for his 3rd touchdown of the night to make it a 24-point lead on the opening drive of the second half for Tech’s offense. Falling just six yards short of his third straight 100-yard game, Torres instead scored nearly half the point total of the entire Oklahoma team with the first three-TD game of his college career and fueled the Air Raid upset.