It was a big day in the SEC, one in which we have a good idea as to who controls the race in the West (LSU) and who won't be a part of the East race (Tennessee). Georgia went across the nation to take care of business and Vanderbilt has started conference play 2-0 thanks to their win at Ole Miss. Other stories include a departure from the BCS crashers group, replaced by a familiar face with such experience. Here are seven important happenings this Saturday.
1. The second half of LSU's win at Auburn brought about the maturation of Jarrett Lee under center.
This may be the most important development of the day in regards to the national title chase. Quarterbacks Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee looked like they had no business on the field in the first half, with their inept play being one of the main reasons for their 14-3 halftime deficit. But an interesting thing happened in the second half: once Hatch was lost to a possible concussion, Lee stepped in with the confidence of a seasoned signal caller. The last shot fired was a touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell with 1:04 remaining to seal the 26-21 win.
The redshirt freshman finished the game 11-22 for 182 yards and two touchdowns with just one interception. His play in the second half showed that offensive coordinator Gary Crowton may be able to open things up with the playcalling as the season progresses. It's too bad an injury needed to take place in order to find out who the quarterback should be, but maybe this is about an Auburn win if Hatch doesn't go down.
2. A) Tennessee was lacking in the discipline department today.
In their embarassing 30-6 home loss to Florida, the Volunteers committed numerous penalties (9 for 95 yards) and missed assignments on both sides of the ball as well. The same thing happened in their loss at UCLA, so you have to wonder if this is going to be a pattern this year for the Vols.
B) They also lacked the belief that they would win the game.
You can't go into rivalry games thinking that you can win. You have to go in with the mentality, especially when playing at home, that you will kick the other team's behind. I didn't see that from the Vols at all, beginning with the kick return by Brandon James to get the Gators rolling. Maybe Brandon Spikes went a little too far earlier this week with the insinuation that Tennesee "quit" in their meeting last season, but having the wrong mindset heading into the game is just as bad. Watching the two teams before kickoff, you'd have a pretty good idea who was going to win the game. And that team did so decisively.
3. A) The talk about Florida State being "back"...not so fast.
The Seminole offense most definitely isn't back, and by the end of their 12-3 loss to Wake Forest you have to wonder what direction that unit is heading in with Colorado on deck. Christian Ponder, who had some interesting comments earlier in the week about how difficult it would be for FSU to lose this game, didn't have a banner night after looking good against two FCS opponents. Ponder went 6-18 for fifty-two yards and three picks, but he wasn't alone as FSU gave the ball away seven times and committed twelve penalties. Tonight's loss showed that there's still a lot of work to be done in Tallahassee, and they're going to have their hands full with the Buffaloes next weekend.
B) Despite their offensive issues, Virginia Tech has cemented themselves as the favorite in the ACC Coastal.
Don't look now but the Hokies are right where they were to end the 2007 regular season: atop the ACC Coastal after a 20-17 win at North Carolina. The talk that Tech winning in Chapel Hill would be an upset leading into the game shows how little people think of their offense. Virginia Tech scored the final seventeen points of the game, and the defense went out and forced four Carolina turnovers. It may not look pretty, but that may be the recipe Virginia Tech needs to defend their ACC crown this season: a strong defense, solid special teams and an opportunistic offense. And after their wins over Georgia Tech and North Carolina, I don't know if I can bet against them much longer.
4. ECU falls off the "BCS Buster" wagon...and Boise State has taken over their seat.
I had a feeling the Pirates' trip to Raleigh was a dangerous one, and the Wolfpack came through with a 30-24 overtime win thanks to an Andre Brown touchdown run. The game was an even affair throughout, with the final turnover (Patrick Pinkney's fumble) being the deciding factor in the first overtime. But playing a BCS team close isn't enough to stay in the running for an at-large bid, so the Pirates have to now refocus on winning Conference USA. In their place could be the Boise State Broncos, who went to Eugene and dominated for three quarters before hanging on for dear life in beating Oregon 37-32.
The Broncos didn't get much help from the running game, but redshirt freshman QB Kellen Moore threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Why is Boise State a dangerous BCS crasher? Two reasons. One, Moore's only going to get better as the season progresses. Secondly, they've got enough returnees from the team that won the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl combined with an excellent coaching staff to know the way back to the BCS. As for the WAC, they get both Hawaii and Fresno State at home.
5. Ohio State didn't blow the doors off of Troy, but Terrelle Pryor is the answer at quarterback.
His athletic ability alone adds a dimension to the Buckeye attack, which clearly needs a boost with Beanie Wells being out of the lineup. And with four touchdown passes today, he clearly isn't a youngster looking to run at every opportunity. Now there were some lofted throws in the bunch that he won't be able to get away with when Ohio State takes on the likes of Wisconsin and Penn State, but that can be worked on in film study and with more reps in practice. But as the year rolls on he'll get better at dissecting defenses and putting the other offensive options in position to make plays. And when they get Wells back to add a sledgehammer to the attack, look out. They're not dead yet America, and Mr. Pryor is a key reason why.
6. Georgia took care of business in soundly defeating Arizona State.
The main issue I saw with the Sun Devils in their loss to UNLV last week: no rushing attack. Losing Keegan Herring to injury was bad enough, but adding that to an inconsistent offensive line is hardly the recipe for pulling an upset. They finished tonight's game with four yards on the ground, and you have to wonder if some semblance of a running game would have made them more competitive. But tonight was also the coming out party for freshman wide receiver A.J. Green, with eight catches for 159 yards and a touchdown. And Knowshon Moreno ran for 149 yards on the ground. The offense may have struggled at South Carolina, but the Sun Devil defense offered little in the way of consistent resistance in the Bulldogs' 27-10 win. Which is a good sign heading into their game with #9 Alabama next weekend.
7. The "Javon Ringer Show" in East Lansing...time for some Heisman talk?
Once again Ringer ran for over 200 yards, racking up 201 and two touchdowns in the Spartans' 23-7 win over Notre Dame. The best part of the showing may have come in the postgame press conference, where Ringer brought the starting offensive line with him and proceeded to heap praise upon them for their effort. And as well as they played throughout it's a good thing he did. Michigan State also forced three Notre Dame turnovers, but you have to hope they can get more out of QB Brian Hoyer as they enter Big Ten play. As for the Heisman talk, Ringer's run for 699 yards in just four games with eleven touchdowns. He may not be much of a threat in their passing game, but should he continue to rack up numbers on the ground it may not matter much.
Offensive Performance of the Day: RB Javon Ringer (Michigan State): 39 carries for 201 yards, two touchdowns