If you like defense in your college football, this was not a week to be watching. Point totals were consistently upwards of 60, with Texas Tech throwing up an 80 spot on Sam Houston before mercifully stopping the scoring with seven minutes left to go. Eighty points. Even Oklahoma stopped three short of that when they beat Texas A&M 77-0 two years ago.
At least one game proved that defense still mattered and that was the highlight game of the week, Florida against Tennessee, for early dominance in the SEC East. Here’s looking at week three of college football.
USC just isn’t playing fair. In fact, it was so unfair, I turned it off. The first time I could observe the two-time defending champions was in their game against Arkansas on Saturday night. Switching over after the SEC battle, I got to see Matt Leinart toying with the Arkansas defense. With weapons everywhere, Leinart threw, ran, and handed the ball away for a lead that made Houston Nutt dizzy.
You knew it wasn’t fair when USC could dictate the tempo that the game was going to take. After scoring quickly again and again in the first quarter, Leinart decided to slow the game down to give his defense a rest. They had been on the field for most of the first 15 minutes after all. USC had run only eight plays. Eight plays that led to four touchdowns, but eight plays. They didn’t even have the ball for two minutes. So Leinart took his time on the first possession of the second quarter to give them a rest. He orchestrated a 16-play, 8-minute drive which, after a LenDale White touchdown, left this game out of reach for Nutt’s Razorbacks.
Leinart played well into the third quarter before giving up the game to his reserves. His performance and poise behind his line was enough to convince me that everyone else in the field for the Heisman trophy has a lot of work to do. I may get hate mail from Texas fans, but nothing that Vince Young did in the game against Ohio State compares to the maturity of Leinart while leading the best team in the country.
I gave Young and the Longhorns their respect for winning a big game last week. USC earned back the respect of the entire country with the way they systematically beat Arkansas. It is not too early for me to believe that this team may be better than the team that lost all those players to the draft. It may not be too early to believe that this may be the best college football team I have ever seen.
Most of my Saturday was spent watching the Notre Dame and Michigan State game. I say most of the day because this game only went one overtime period but lasted four hours and one minute, which was only 13 minutes shorter than the seven overtime game between Mississippi and Arkansas played back in 2001. To say this game was lacking defense would be an understatement. Sure, there were interceptions and some punts, but 1082 yards were amassed between the two teams. Drew Stanton accounted for most of the yardage for Michigan State, using his arm and his legs to frequently get the Spartans over the hump and to another first down.
To compare, Brady Quinn pushed his team down the field with multiple short passes. The ice bags on his shoulder after the game must have been huge as he threw the ball 60 times. Both quarterbacks were key to their success and both garnered the lion’s share of attention from the defenses. It was just not enough to stop the receivers downfield.
Game balls should go to Jeff Samardjiza for Notre Dame and Matt Trannon for Michigan State. The Irish receiver caught 6 passses, three for touchdowns gaining close to 100 yards on offense and making some key plays in the Irish’s run back from 21 points behind. The 6’7″ Spartan receiver caught 2 touchdowns and went for 136 yards including a 65-yard scoring reception, which everyone thought might have put the Spartans up for good.
After Jason Teague ran the final touchdown in overtime, his teammates piled on to him. They managed to unpile long enough to race to the center of Notre Dame Stadium and plant a giant Spartan flag in clear view of Touchdown Jesus. The flag symbolizes the dominance of Michigan State in their home away from home in South Bend, having won the last 5 at Notre Dame. The Spartans also improved their record against Top Ten teams to 9-1 over the last 8 years.
The Spartan’s road gets tougher now that they begin the Big Ten schedule. There are six undefeated teams in the Big Ten, though none of them are the ones who were picked to win the conference. Drew Stanton said after the Notre Dame game, “Now we start the Big Ten schedule and we are 0-0 so we just have to keep believing in the coaches and each other. This certainly gives us a great deal of momentum.” They are going to need it, especially against a rejuvenated Illinois team next week, a team which almost beat Cal this past Saturday.
Florida, you managed to win, though not without some scares along the way. Sure, Tennessee tried everything to give the game away. They practiced with Rick Clausen all week but went to Erik Ainge on the third series and never looked back. At half-time, when he was on his way to the locker room, tied at seven, Phil Fullmer was asked if he would play both in the second half, and all he could say was,”We’ll see.” It will be back to the drawing board again this week because after the game, Fullmer was not thrilled with the performance of either signal caller. “Neither one of them played very good, but the people around them didn’t play very good either. It’s tough.”
Then, there was the fumble of a punt return. And don’t forget the punt attempt which freshman punter Britton Colquitt thought he could turn into a fake after seeing a Florida special teams defensive shift. His pass to the gunner on the right side fell short. Both plays led directly to Florida field goals on the short fields. Tennessee was lucky that their defense held strong enough to prevent the Gators from finding the end zone more than once in the game. Still, Florida was able to eat the clock in the second half with long drives and keep the ball long enough to not give Tennessee the chances it needed to take back advantage in the game. Tennessee won’t be able to make these mistakes against LSU when they play this week and still hope to be close in the game at the end. LSU will be well rested. Tennessee will need to find a quarterback and fast before that game.
Florida, for its part, is fighting two big injuries sustained during the game. Defensive end Ray McDonald will be missing for the better part of the next two months after injuring his knee early in the game against Tennessee. He underwent surgery and is recovering. He was the leading tackler for loss last season on the Florida team and already had three this season. The Gators also lost junior wide receiver Andre Caldwell during the third quarter of the game. Caldwell had scored the only touchdown of the game when he scrambled 18 yards for the score during the first quarter. Caldwell was lost for the season when he broke his femur returning the second half kickoff. He had surgery early Sunday morning. Caldwell was the only kickoff return man for Florida all season so far and they will most likely fill the void with Jemalle Cornelius, who came in for Caldwell following the injury.
A couple of quick notes before the end of the week:
- My prediction of Bob Stoops leaving at the end of the season, which met with much debate from my friends, is looking better and better. You can only imagine the frustration that Adrian Peterson is feeling seeing the team he should be leading, falling to 1-2 and out of the rankings. With much trouble on the horizon, including the tough conference schedule ahead, his thoughts could be on leaving at the end of the year. Should Peterson make that decision, Stoops wouldn’t be long to follow. His decisions around the quarterback position haven’t panned out. He is facing discipline problems from his team leaders off the field. I am guessing that the Minnesota job is looking better and better in his mind as they fall to 0-2 on the year in the NFL. With a pro bowl quarterback there, he doesn’t have much to worry about at that position. And what if his star Oklahoma back is available in the draft? Just a thought.
- If you look at the list of teams that are still without a loss, there are two that stick out more than others. Those are Indiana and Vanderbilt. Sure, Indiana’s road has been rocky. They almost lost to 1-AA Nicholls State, and survived Central Michigan during week one. They did come on strong against Kentucky, and that is a good sign for a team about to start a very difficult Big Ten season. There are no easy wins on the schedule from here on out, including five of their last six against currently ranked opponents. Terry Hoeppner has this team believing and that is what is important. A bowl game — their first since 1993 — may be much to ask for, but it may not be far down the road if Indiana continues to play like it has so far.
Over at Vandy, Bobby Johnson has the few faithful believing in Commodores football once again. With its first 3-0 start since the mid 1980s, Vandy finds itself in a place it is definitely not accustomed to — atop the SEC East. Two conference wins over Arkansas and Mississippi have given Vanderbilt the early lead in the conference race. Their third victory was a non-conference win over Wake Forest to begin the season. With two games against 1-AA foes coming on the schedule, there is a very real chance that Vanderbilt could begin 5-0 and be one win away from becoming bowl eligible. Because of the number of SEC bowl tie-ins, this could mean that Vandy would reach its first bowl since going to the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1982, a game they lost to Air Force. Trying to pick where the potential sixth win would come from is difficult. They have LSU, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee on the very tough SEC East schedule, and all of those teams are currently in the Top Ten. They do play both Kentucky and South Carolina. Maybe this is one time the Old Ballcoach can help another team which hasn’t gone to a bowl in a while, just like he did with Duke, and with Florida when he started at both those places. This time though, Steve Spurrier won’t be coaching the team.
To finish, my Top 10 for Week 3:
- USC – Anytime you can have your third string quarterback throw a touchdown and it wasn’t caused by injury, you know your team is good. Welcome back to #1. I feel bad for Oregon.
- Texas – 50 points and a well-deserved week off. Better not look past Missouri to that showdown at the Cotton Bowl. Beginning to change my mind on Mack getting his first win against the Sooners.
- Florida – Can’t take this spot away from them after an impressive SEC opener. How does it feel to be trailing Vandy in the standings though? Should be smooth sailing until LSU a month from now.
- Virginia Tech – Ohio managed more yardage than Duke but still wound up with a goose egg on the board. Now Georgia Tech may be without Reggie Ball. 4-0 just got a little easier for the Hokies.
- LSU – Off, so they slip a bit. LSU needs to stop the run against Tennessee to force the quarterbacks to beat them. Of course, that got them into a shootout with Arizona State. Hope they enjoyed the week off.
- Florida State – Survived Boston College despite blowing an early lead. Looks like they just needed to give Weatherford a little time to settle in and he will be just fine. They better not abandon the running game yet though. Looks like they could go through to December without losing.
- Georgia – A little Louisiana-Monroe never did anything to hurt a team’s confidence. Tennessee is still not far away on the schedule but suddenly Georgia is the second best team in the East. David Greene who?
- Louisville – And Oregon State was supposed to be a test for them. Could run through the Big East with that offense now. I would start being concerned about West Virginia’s defense if I were them. They can probably forget about Pittsburgh by now.
- Cal – I was just being hopeful when I said that they should be afraid of Illinois. I didn’t know they would almost lose that one. Still too reliant on the running game for a Tedford team. UCLA is their next big test.
- Arizona State – I struggled on this one. I would have said Georgia Tech, but with Reggie Ball’s status in the air, it wouldn’t work. Then I considered 3-0 Michigan State, but they showed no defense against Notre Dame. So, a one loss team gets the nod. Can’t blame them for losing to destiny in their game against LSU. Now, can they defeat destiny the second time around and beat USC?
Others to consider: Georgia Tech with Reggie Ball, Michigan State, Miami, Notre Dame, Clemson, Michigan, Wisconsin
Ben Miraski writes about college football and basketball on his website MRISports.com