College Football: Saturday Touchdowns

    
October 5th, 2008

The first Saturday in October is now in the books, with Hawaii winning at #22 Fresno State in overtime on a Dan Kelly field goal in the first overtime period. The fact that this game was in overtime period is a story, as the Bulldogs negated a yardage advantage of more than 200 yards with six turnovers. The initial field goal attempt in their first possession was missed, only to be bailed out by a Hawaii penalty for running into the kicker. Second chance at the lead...same result, opening the door for a road conference win for the Warriors. Turnover margin, just like last season, has been the tie that binds many of the nation's best teams in 2008. Here are seven key points for this Saturday.

1) Vanderbilt may have some staying power in the SEC East race.

The Commodores are now 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the SEC after their 14-13 win over #13 Auburn in Nashville. Starting QB Chris Nickson was knocked out of the game, but it did matter as Mackenzi Adams came in to preserve the win. In an uneven 2007, both saw action under center and that experience clearly paid off. Of course, it also helped to face an Auburn offense still searchng for an identity. Are they going with the spread, or the power running game? Who really knows, but it's going to be tough for the Tigers to get back into the SEC West race at this point.

Vandy came into Saturday as the worst in the SEC in both total offense and total defense, but the fact that they force mistakes and take full advantage of their opportunities is the main reason why they sit atop the SEC. The last time Vanderbilt started a season 5-0? FDR was president.

2) Kansas barely survives Iowa State.

With the early local start and a team that isn't expected to be a threat, it wasn's a shock to see the Jayhawks struggle in the early going. But to fall behind 20-0? That wasn't expected from #16 Kansas, who outscored the Cyclones 21-0 in the third quarter. How did they end up in this kind of trouble? Four turnovers, with three lost fumbles. But the offense still put up nearly 500 yards while losing the time of possession battle. If the Jayhawks are to have any chance at winning the Big 12 North, they cannot afford such slow starts regardless of the magnitude of the game.

After Kansas scored in the fourth quarter to make the score 28-20, it would have been easy for the Cyclones to fold the tent and be content with having a ranked team on the ropes for three quarters. But they came right back, which is a good sign for Gene Chizik's young program. Another positive would be the play of QB Austen Arnaud, who threw three touchdown passes and just one interception.

3) Two once-proud programs that aren't as close to being back as originally thought: Nebraska and Miami.

Nebraska was blown out by Missouri in Lincoln, giving the fourth-ranked Tigers their first win at Nebraska since 1978. But it was how the Huskers lost the game that shows they've got a longer way to go than some had originally hoped. Just seventy-nine yards on the ground, which isn't a shock when considering the lack of production from the I-back position this season. But fourteen penalties for 101 yards and two turnovers? One of the trademarks of the Nebraska program in their heyday was the fact that they didn't beat themselves. Missouri had a lot to do with the 52-17 drubbing, but the mental lapses had to be a disconcerting sight for head coach Bo Pelini.

Miami fell behind by a 24-3 score at the half due to their inept play, but they showed some heart in fighting back to get back to within two points at 34-32. But the defense couldn't get the ball back, allowing Florida State to drive back down the field to essentially seal the game. It was a sloppy game, featuring seven turnovers and twenty-two penalties, but for the Canes to run for just 51 yards and finish with 256 yards of total offense? They also have a long trek back to being the program that dominated college football during the late 20th- and early21st Century.

4) Can anyone out there explain the Maryland Terrapins?

Their 31-0 loss at Virginia may be a proper display of the instability within the ACC race. But to lose like this on the road after winning at Clemson is flat-out embarassing. Virginia QB Marc Verica had the best game of his young career, and a Virginia offense that has looked poor in the early going racked up 427 yards of offense in the win. They were balanced as well, with 226 through the air and 201 on the ground. Maryland, who helped the cause with two turnovers and 79 yards rushing, has to be doing some serious soul searching after losing to a team last seen being whipped by Duke. Can they still win the Atlantic? Yes, especially with this not being a divisional loss. But you have to wonder if they have the focus required to win games on a weekly basis.

5) Here's to the official introduction of Terrelle Pryor to the Big Ten.

Pryor played well last week in Ohio State's win over Minnesota last week, but how about his leading the Buckeyes down the field for the gamewinning touchdown at Wisconsin? He made two key throws to Brian Hartline in the middle of the field on the drive, then ran the option in grand fashion to score the TD himself. Were his numbers spectacular? No, they were rather pedestrian in fact, throwing for 144 yards and a pick with just twenty yards on the ground. But sometimes the light bulb goes off at the end of an otherwise underwhelming performance, which may have happened in Madison for Pryor.

As for the Badgers, who now drop to 0-2 in Big Ten play, they're in some serious toruble with #6 Penn State due to visit next week. That loss at Michigan has to hurt even more after a second close loss to open the conference slate.

6) USC started off slow, but woke up in a hurry to blow out Oregon.

No Rey Maualuga, who was out with a knee injury, and Brian Cushing was playing Maualuga's position with a soft cast on one of his hands. But even with the injuries and depth chart shakeups following their loss at Oregon State, the Trojan defense held the nation's fourth-best rushing attack to just sixty yards on the ground. Sixty. Add to this a solid effort by QB Mark Sanchez along with 498 yards of offense and you have all the makings for a 44-10 USC romp. One issue, however: penalties. USC was called for twleve, giving up 114 yards for the game. But the Ducks weren't much better, committing ten fouls for eighty-five yards. So for all those declaring the Pac-10 race wide-open following last Thursday, this was a nice message that USC is still the top dog.

7) The most valuable player in college football may be Washington's Jake Locker.

Yes, the Huskies have stunk this season. But for the most part they've been competitive with Locker under center. But without him, as they were at Arizona tonight due to a broken thumb, wow. A 48-14 final that wasn't even close with the execption of the coin toss. Give all credit to Arizona who went out and took care of business at home (TE Rob Gronkowski should win the Mackey Award this year), but Tyrone Willingham has some serious issues to deal with and I'm not sure bringing Locker back early at a different position will solve any of them.

The defense is the worst in the Pac-10, and they lack a consistent running game. These two issues go hand-in-hand because without the ability to control the clock, the defense can't get any rest. Hence the offensive explosions put up by a few of the teams the Huskies have encountered so far. And they haven't even taken on the bulk of the Pac-10 schedule yet. It's going to get a lot worse before it gets any better, and we could be looking at the "Apple Cup" between UDub and Washington State as the best chance for either team to get a win this season.

Offensive Performance of the Day: RB Tyrell Fenroy of Louisiana-Lafayette. On just twenty carries, Fenroy ran for 297 yards and three touchdowns in the Ragin' Cajuns 44-35 win at Louisiana-Monroe.