College Football: Saturday Touchdowns for September 6th
The second Saturday of the college football season has given us a little more in the way of fireworks than many anticipated. One Top 10 team fell while another struggled with the temptation of next weekend's glamour opponent. And after the day's events, the Big East will now be on the receiving end of a lot of the criticism sent the ACC's way last week. Lastly, given the sneaky nature of this weekend's schedule, it's appropriate that Weber State leads Hawaii 17-7 at the half (Tyler Graunke takes over for Inoke Funaki at quarterback for Hawaii in the second half) as I write this. Now for seven key points in summing up this weekend.
1. The officials got it all wrong in the BYU/Washington game.
Wow. That's all that I can really say about the events that transpired in BYU's 28-27 win at Washington. Washington QB Jake Locker scores what could be the game-tying touchdown with two seconds remaining in the game. In his excitement, he flips the ball into the air and then commences celebrating with his teammates. But the Pac-10 officials decide to execute the rules on excessive celebration to the letter, flagging Locker and penalizing the Huskies fifteen yards on the extra point. BYU DE Jan Jorgensen was able to block the extra point, preserving the win for the Cougars and keeping their BCS aspirations within reach.
Now I've heard the argument that a game like this could eventually cost Ty Willingham his job in Seattle; that he needed a big win in the worst way. Maybe so, but to be honest that shouldn't matter in this situation. What should matter is that this new emphasis on excessive celebrating is in some ways muting the enthusiasm of players, one of the keys in college football. It's what makes the game so enjoyable to many of those involved with the game, from fans to players to coaches. Do you really expect a player who has just scored a crucial touchdown with seconds remaining to simply put his head down and mope back to the sideline? I know that this isn't the goal of the renewed emphasis on the rule, but that's what it could eventually come down to when you make rulings like this one. Hopefully officials in the future use their judgement in handing out excessive celebration penalties and not pass it off on what the rule states.
2. The Big East is in some serious trouble.
Having your preseason favorite fall by three touchdowns on the road is no way to follow up a 4-4 weekend in which none of your wins came against FBS opponents. Was West Virginia that bad, or was East Carolina that good in the Pirates' 24-3 win? I'd say a little bit of both, with more emphasis on what the Pirates were able to do on both sides of the football. Add to this Connecticut winning a brutal 12-9 overtime contest at Temple in which their passing game provided even more questions as opposed to answers. More turnovers, thankfully for the Huskies RB Donald Brown was ready to go (214 yards and the game-winning touchdown) from the start. South Florida needed overtime to dispatch of rival Central Florida, and Syracuse took one on the chin at home from Akron.
Cincinnati gave #4 Oklahoma a fight but still fell by 26, and they lost starting QB Dustin Grutza to a broken leg to boot. Thankfully for the conference Louisville and Pitt notched their first wins of the season. For a league that was being touted for its depth before the season began, the fact that they've struggled so mightily in the first two weekends of the season is a very bad sign of things to come.
3. You can enter ECU into the "Crash the BCS Party" Sweepstakes.
Skip Holtz's Pirates looked that good on both sides of the football in their 24-3 pasting of #8 West Virginia. The Mountaineers found it tough to find holes in the ECU defense, a serious departure from what they were able to accomplish against Villanova in their opener. The Pirates also outgained WVU 386-251 for the game, with QB Patrick Pinkney going 22-28 for 236 yards and a touchdown. West Virginia putting the ball on the ground didn't help their cause either. In their first two games of the season we've seen some serious athletic ability from ECU, and combined with solid execution makes them a serious threat to make some noise at season's end.
4. Try not to read too much into Ohio State's struggles. But they didn't look too good in winning either.
No Beanie Wells for the Buckeyes in their final tune-up before they visit USC next weekend, but thanks to their special teams they were able to close out Ohio 26-14 in the fourth quarter. The running game did rack up 162 yards for the day, but their lack of continuity on offense was a serious issue without Wells in the lineup. And Todd Boeckman threw for just 110 yards, and that number will have to jump a significant amout if they're to win in the LA Coliseum next Saturday night. But while these areas should cause some concern, they most certainly shouldn't cause widespread panic amongst Buckeye fans. This happens all the time, when a highly ranked team gets caught looking ahead to their next big game instead of focusing on the next game on the schedule. Ohio State got out with a win, and that's the key.
5. Miami showed some promise, but they lack the experience to hang with a team of Florida's caliber for four quarters.
Miami fought about as hard as they could in the first half, and save two errors in the kicking game (a shank that led to the first Florida score and a blocked punt that resulted in a safety) the Hurricanes were right in the game at the break (trailing 9-3). But they ran out of juice as the Gators hit their stride and coasted to a 26-3 win. Miami defensive coordinator Bill Young took a page out of the book Michigan used to win the Capital One Bowl, showing Tim Tebow a variety of looks and putting pressure on him. This was very effective in the first half, but the defense got tired as the offense was unable to sustain momentum when they had the ball. But the Canes are clearly a team to look out for in 2009 as they gain experience all over the field. They're not back yet, but Randy Shannon has this team on its way.
6. Michigan/Notre Dame could be a prime candidate for ugliest game of the day next Saturday.
Neither team looked very good in their wins Saturday, and Notre Dame was a fumble away from falling behind San Diego State by two touchdowns in the second half. Michigan won 16-6 over Miami (Ohio), and the low score is indicative of just how much they struggled on offense. The Wolverines accounted for just 281 yards of offense, with 103 of those coming through the air. At least they didn't turn the ball over, but the Redhawks did have the ball for almost eleven more minutes than the Wolverines. As for the Fighting Irish, it didn't look like they progressed much on the offensive side of the football from last season. They put up 342 yards of offense, but four turnovers...not so good. I'm not sure what either team will do against each other next weekend, but the result could hurt the eyes when compared to some of the other headliners on the schedule.
7. Arkansas could be in serious trouble come SEC play...scratch that. They've got Texas next week.
The Hogs have needed late-game heroics (D.J. Williams caught the game-winning touchdown with 1:22 left in the game tonight) to knock off Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe. Neither of these teams approach the level of talent the Razorbacks will have to deal with in SEC play, or in their showdown with old-school rival Texas next week. Bobby Petrino will have his hands more than full, a fact that may have many Atlanta Falcons fans rejoicing. The good news for Arkansas is that they were able to rack up 506 yards of offense in their win over the Warhawks, and they didn't turn the ball over. Maybe they've been playing to the level of their opponents, but I'd say it's been more about having to replace guys named McFadden and Jones on both offense and special teams. They'll be missed when the Longhorns come a-calling next week.
Performance of the Day: I'm going with the Oklahoma State offense as a whole, which amassed 699 yards of offense in their 56-37 win over Houston despite three turnovers. Copout, maybe. But that's a tough number to put up in a game without the help of overtime. Dez Bryant had 236 yards receiving and three touchdowns on nine receptions, and Kendall Hunter ran for 210 yards and two scores on twenty-two carries.