Sports

College Football Analysis: Best and Worst of Week 9

| by Sports Nickel

In a week that saw two more unbeatens fall, fans got a little bit of everything.  You want a last-second win?  No problem.  How about a couple of woodshed jobs against two of the nation’s top offenses?  You got it.  A traditional power reasserting itself after a stunning Week 8 defeat?  Done.

Week 9 rearranged the Top 10, and while the marquee matchup between LSU and Alabama remains unblemished, the rest of the rankings are suddenly filled with one-loss teams jockeying for position behind the Top 5.

Best Win of The Week: Ohio State 33, Wisconsin 29

If ever a power program needed a statement win to revitalize its season, it was Ohio State.  In the midst a rebuilding year, the Buckeyes fell just short of beating Michigan State in a defensive slugfest, then collapsed late against Nebraska in Lincoln.  Welcoming Wisconsin to Columbus, the erstwhile Big Ten behemoth was in danger of falling to 1-3 in conference play.

The Badgers seemed the superior team in spite of Week 8′s last second loss to the Spartans; falling on a Hail Mary is a fluky way to lose.  And given that the Badgers took down the #1 Buckeyes in Madison a year ago, beating this year’s squad should have been in the bag.

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Instead, the OSU defense and freshman quarterback Braxton Miller had a season-defining victory.

As has been the case all year, Ohio State owes most of success to the stop unit, particularly the front seven.  Led by John Simon, the defensive front kept both Montee Ball and Russell Wilson under control throughout the first half.  With the exception of an eight-play, 69-yard scoring drive early in the first quarter, the Buckeyes were immovable.

The offense struggled as usual, managing a field goal after a laborious 31-yard march in the second.  And it appeared that Wisconsin would earn a kicking attempt of its own in the final moments, but a timely sack by Adam Bellamy forced the Badgers into halftime with the 7-3 advantage.

The second half opened with a bang for the beleaguered Bucks.  Dan “Boom” Herron found a seam and tore off a 57-yard run that led to a goalline showdown.  After being stuffed on their first three downs, Coach Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes elected to go for the touchdown, and Braxton Miller’s elusive feet helped him find the endzone untouched.

Up 10-7, Ohio State managed to turn the game on a huge special teams play as Ryan Shazier blocked a punt deep in Wisconsin territory.  The Buckeyes punched it in again, going up 17-7.

But after another stop, OSU return man Jordan Hall muffed a punt, allowing the Badgers to recover and ultimately score on a 27-yard drive that narrowed the gap to 17-14.  Refusing to be intimidated by the diminishing lead, the Buckeyes kept the defensive pressure on while adding a field goal early in the fourth.

Up 20-14, Miller got loose on a scramble near midfield and raced 44 yards for a score at the five minute mark.  Now leading 26-14, the Buckeyes were on the cusp of a major upset.  But the defense, which had broken down against Nebraska three week prior, was victimized by Russell Wilson and Wisconsin’s quick-strike attack.

With a pair of four-play drives, the Badgers score two touchdowns in less than three minutes, adding a two-point conversion and taking a 29-26 lead.  Ohio Stadium had gone deathly quiet as the fans waited to see if the young Buckeyes would respond.

They did.

First came Hall’s electrifying 42-yard kickoff return that set up the offense near midfield.  Then came a series of short plays that marched the team into Wisconsin territory.  And with half a minute remaining, Braxton Miller took the first step toward becoming a legend at The ‘Shoe.

Taking the snap at the 43, Miller was flushed from the pocket and rolled to his right, preparing to run for as much yardage as possible before getting out of bounds.  Ohio State was nearing field goal range, and time was dwindling, yet Miller’s eyes never stopped searching the field.  Just as he was about the cross the line of scrimmage, the freshman uncorked a huge throw across his body, a high, arcing toss that landed perfectly in the arms of a waiting Devin Smith.

Somehow Smith had gotten behind the Wisconsin secondary.  Somehow he found a soft spot in the endzone.  And when Miller’s perfect pass came down, it was 32-29 Ohio State.  An extra point set the final score as the Buckeyes’ defense sealed the deal in what was truly a signature win for this troubled program.

Honorable Mention: Nebraska 24, Michigan State 3 in Lincoln

*****

Worst Win of the Week: Virginia Tech 14, Duke 10 in Durham

A game featuring one of the conference’s best against one of its worst ought to be fairly easy to predict, right?  A game filled with five turnovers ought to have some kind of excitement.  But Saturday’s tilt in Durham disproved both of those notions.

The Hokies were listless and uninspired, outscored 3-0 in a second half that was brutal to watch.  If not for tailback David Wilson’s 148 yards, it would hard to find any positives for the VT offense.

Defensively the Hokies were stout, limiting the Blue Devils to 326 yards.  But then again, it’s Duke.

Quarterback Logan Thomas found tight end Eric Martin late in the first quarter, connecting on a two-yard touchdown strike.  In the second, running back Josh Oglesby plunged in from the one.  In between, Duke’s Desmond Scott temporarily tied that game at 7-7.

Other than those highlights, it was a half plagued by giveaways and sloppy play.  Despite turnovers on each of Duke’s first two possessions, Tech was unable to get out to a big lead, needing to lock down the Blue Devils after halftime to eke out the four-point win.  In all, the defense had four takeaways balanced against two Thomas interceptions.

It’s hard to imagine Virginia Tech as a team vying for a BCS berth after this lackluster performance.

Honorable Mention: Penn State 10, Illinois 7 in Happy Valley

*****

Upset of the Week: Georgia Tech 31, Clemson 17 in Atlanta

The Clemson juggernaut came into its matchup with Georgia Tech averaging better than 40 points per game.  Granted, the Tiger defense was pretty ugly, but there was no doubt that Tajh Boyd and company could score, laying waste to opponents including Auburn, Florida State, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina.  The team was averaging nearly 500 yards from scrimmage through its first eight contests and appeared to be on the verge of running away with the ACC.

The Yellow Jackets were at the opposite end of the spectrum, having dropped two games in a row.  GT hadn’t played well since its Week 6 win over NC State, and its conference victories weren’t by impressive margins.  Tech had topped UNC by seven, the Wolfpack by ten, and squeaked past Maryland 21-16 before laying eggs against VT and Miami.

Based on recent performance, Clemson seemed a lock to steamroll the struggling GT offense and move to 9-0 on the year.  But as we’ve learned repeatedly, each weekend is a new adventure.

Clemson stopped Tech’s opening possession and opened the scoring with a field goal.  That good start then quickly went off the rails.  It began with a D.J. Howard fumble that led to Georgia Tech touchdown, and the Jackets followed that with a stop and a field goal to go up 10-3.  The second quarter was all Tech, as Paul Johnson’s option attack ate up more than ten minutes of game time.  GT tacked on a pair of touchdowns to go into the break with a commanding 24-7 lead.

It was stupefying to see Clemson’s own offense taken out of the game, and the situation only worsened after halftime.  The Tigers went on to turn the ball over three more times, including a pair of Boyd interceptions.

The team traded TDs in the third, and Clemson scored on a fumble recovery in the endzone to open the fourth.  That made the final respectable and closer than it actually was.  Georgia Tech easily outplayed what had to that point looked like one of the best offensive teams in the nation.  The loss knocked Clemson from the ranks of the unbeaten, and left the team one game ahead of Wake Forest in the Atlantic Division.  Georgia Tech sits one game back of the Hokies in the Coastal.

Honorable Mention: Iowa State 41, Texas Tech 7 in Lubbock