Cleaning Up the Mess: Week 9
Cleaning Up the Mess is here to make sense of what just happened at your weekend-long television party. Who put Goldfish in the blender? And why is the thermostat on 42?
This week: we were just about to serve the homemade apple turnovers when LSU barged in the door with a vat of gumbo. After telling people to “hush”, the uninvited house guest in purple and gold shoved heaping portions of the stew in front of the already full house guests. Then, LSU sat on the couch and changed the channel to a terrible movie about Edie Sedgwick called Ciao! Manhattan. It was better than making it through another hour of Christopher Cross.
The week was previewed as vanilla. As the sun went down, it turned into the wild Superman flavor in a matter of four hours. LSU’s Roland Martin intercepted Bo Wallace in the final seconds to beat one of the best Ole Miss teams in school history. Ohio State evaded ruination of their playoff chances in a wacky game. Then, Utah punched their train ticket to the badlands of the Pac 12 South to hunt two rogue bounty hunters in Arizona and Arizona State by beating USC. So much for smooth.
Ole Miss’ stumble was the biggest seismic quake that registered on the college football charts. Before that, TCU’s 82 points – with Trevone Boykin accounting for 42 of those points – was the only thing registering until it was eclipsed. The game was a defensive slog that revealed the uglier side of Wallace whose prescence had been hidden ever since the Rebels’ Memphis game. Bad Bo emerged at the worst moment possible with 14 of 33 completed passes for 176 yards, a touchdown and that fatal interception.
Saturday night in Baton Rouge also bared witness to a growing LSU team who battered the hell out of the Rebels’ defense on the legs of freshman RB Leonard Fournette. Fournette, who entered the season high on Heisman watch lists, was the subject of huge preseason hype with minimal on-the-field production in big games. He came up huge for the Tigers with 113 rushing yards on 23 carries as well as two catches for forty yards. He fought through a ripped off face mask and became the signature of an LSU attack that beat up the vaunted Rebels defense. A defensive unit which saw key players Robert Nkemdiche, Cody Prewitt, and Denzel Nkemdiche all miss playing time due to injuries during the game.
The Rebels’ 10-7 loss has thrown them out of the top five in the AP poll and out of the playoff picture until further notice. A visit from a top ranked Auburn team is a must-win game for each to keep their chances alive. A game that serves as the common theme in the SEC West. Everyone is trying to escape with a singular loss while waiting for Mississippi State to drop – a feat the Bulldogs almost managed in Lexington.
North of the Mason-Dixon line, the race to a league championship isn’t as dramatic or nail biting. Two dominant teams stand atop the Big Ten and both of them are within the same division.
Michigan State thrashed the Michigan Wolverines in East Lansing 35-11. The treadmill offense of the Wolverines fell off the track against the behemoth known as the Spartan defense. Michigan went scoreless in the first quarter until finally putting up a field goal within the second. After another scoreless quarter in the third, the Wolverines had one final TD with a two point conversion. That was after the Spartans had scored 28 points. Yet, Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio decided that a 17 point lead was not enough.
In the closing three minutes of the game, Dantonio had the Spartans drive down the field to score one final touchdown to crush Michigan. The reason for running up the score was due to an incident before the game that involved a few Wolverine players driving a stake through MSU’s turf. The Spartans coaching staff decided to act metaphorically rather than literally allowing QB Connor Cook and the offense to slice the Wolverine defense for a 7 play, 48 yard drive to the endzone.
QB Devin Gardner looked helpless as a shell of the player he used to be due to regression caused by having three offensive coordinators in three years. Gardner’s day was marked by two interceptions while only completing 15 of 30 passes for 125 yards and no touchdowns. The fact that all of this happened against perceived “little brother” is of extreme importance to a Michigan program struggling to breathe. The program has “cratered” and Michigan State is the best team in the Mitten as well as a contender to win the conference outright. Add this to another sad act in the theatrical play around Ann Arbor known as Waiting for Schembechler.
The Spartans, after failing to put together a full four quarters of a game against lesser competition, cruised to a victory. RB Jeremy Langford accounted for 177 yards through 35 carries with three touchdowns to boot. That was against a Michigan run defense that had held Notre Dame, Rutgers, Utah and Penn State to under 100 yards and no touchdowns. They also have a competent, able passer in Connor Cook who is now second behind Gary Nova in total passing yards in the Big Ten. All of this sets up for a huge game on November 8th against Ohio State who barely escaped a Penn State team that held Barrett to 74 passing yards. If Michigan State can maintain their dominance, a case could be made for playoff contention.
Life gets zany again once you point the compass towards the Big 12 where West Virginia is a legitimate conference contender, TCU now has a total war plan, and Kansas State sits high on an undefeated conference record.
The biggest surprise out of all three teams is the way the Mountaineers have ripped through the conference after their home loss to Oklahoma. Since the game against the Sooners, QB Clint Trickett has led West Virginia to four conference wins with 1,163 passing yards and eight touchdowns. They currently rank 11th in Football Outsider’s Passing S&P+, a ranking which measures the success rate of each play, IsoPPP (an explosiveness measure), drive efficiency, and opponent adjustments. In total overall offense on the S&P+, they rank 20th in the nation behind No. 15 TCU. A huge jump for a program that ended their season at the 97th spot in that same statistical ranking.
Their 33-10 win over Oklahoma State solidifed the fact that they are legit after going 4-8 in 2013. Week 10 brings TCU to Morgantown, a game that decides who is in the number two position in regards to Kansas State (barring they don’t lose in the same week, of course). At 6-2, the Mountaineers are bowl eligible after a post season drought in 2013. Head coach Dana Holgorsen, after entering the season on a lukewarm seat, now finds himself in a comfortable position where the Mountaineers can land either at worst 8-4 or at best 10-2.
Big 12 race and Pac 12 South race should be and can be used interchangably. After Utah’s 24-21 win over USC, the Pac 12 South has three teams outside of Los Angeles vying for the division title: Arizona, Arizona State and, of course, the Utes. Each team boasts a record with one loss, each of them remarkable in their own, unique way, and staring at weekend that could possibly explode that current picture. Arizona heads to UCLA while Arizona State takes on Utah in the valley of the sun.
Oregon, after a 59-41 shootout with Cal, sits atop the North division on the shoulders of a Stanford team who has already dropped two games in conference. However, should Oregon allow their porous defense to let a David Shaw-coached offense score while being subjected to their tough defense, the Pac 12 as a whole will turn into a game of Age of Empires.
OTHER LEFTOVER PARTY FAVORS
- Chris Fowler spent a segment on College Gameday dispeling the growing conspiracy theory among non-SEC partisans about ESPN and SEC collusion. To set the record straight, here’s a hot take: ESPN’s interest is revenue. Revenue that is brought to them by eyeballs watching their product. ESPN’s product on Saturdays in the Fall is college football along with the College Football Playoff. If a majority of eyeballs watching that product reside in places outside of New York, DC, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, ESPN is not maximizing revenue. However, ESPN cannot influence what the AP poll thinks of the product on the field, statistics, how other conferences perform and how recruits view each conference. They have a responsibility to report the reality of what goes on in the sport despite a viewer’s preferences. The reality is that the SEC is playing the best football and the top teams are beating the teams that are on the bottom rungs. ESPN has an obligation to report that dominance. Further anecdotal proof can be found in a 6-1 Minnesota team dropped a game to a 3-4 Tim Beckman coached Illinois team.
- Mississippi State is one of two undefeated teams to survive another week after Kentucky threw everything it could possibly muster at the Bulldogs. Are there flaws with this team? And how. Heisman frontrunner Dak Prescott was shown to the back of the line before J.T. Barrett could get there after Prescott turned in a 55% completion rate along with an interception. However, Prescott also had a touchdown and 216 yards to his name. Bo Wallace’s personality disorder with “Bad Bo” seems to manifest itself for entire games; Prescott’s seems to flip on and off with every new possession. MSU’s defense also gave up 390 yards and two touchdowns to Kentucky’s Patrick Towles making it the most yardage he’s racked up in a single game this season. The silver lining is the consistency in the running back play of bruiser Josh Robinson. Robinson had 23 carries totaling 198 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards per carry. If Prescott remains to have some issues throwing the ball, it’s nice to know the Bulldogs can smash the ball through opposing defenses.
- I made mention of this once but it bears repeating: TCU scored 82 points. How much is that you ask? Well, the fireworks that are used after every touchdown is made dwindled down to a goose egg on Saturday against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Viewers would like to point you to the team on the receiving end of that colossal beatdown as being one of the worst defenses within the Big 12. Sure, make of it what you will but 82 points against a Power Five team is still 82 points. Last year, the Horned Frogs did not score over 50 points in a single game. That’s been turned on it’s head with TCU barnstorming it’s way into a national name outside of the Metroplex with three games over 50 points.
- Ohio State escaped Happy Valley in a 31-24 win that needed two overtimes to settle it. The game itself was a wacky display on the part of the officiating crew who made a terrible call on the official review due to a horrible lack of video evidence. There was also two separate occasions where Ohio State and Penn State used time outs though neither James Franklin or Urban Meyer never asked for them. The fun even carried over into overtime with a coin toss that resembled New Yorkers trying to interpret Young Thug. The lasting image of the game is a Joey Bosa shruggie after sacking Christian Hackenberg with his own lineman toe end it.
- Arizona ran through Washington State in a 59-37 win, racking up 24 points in the first quarter alone. The Wildcats had 31 unanswered points in the second quarter before Washington State’s Connor Halliday threw for a touchdown. In 12 drives, Arizona only punted four times. Everything else resulted in points on the board with seven touchdown drives and one field goal. Rich Rod and the Wildcats have to prove they can do it against former Pac 12 South contender UCLA in Los Angeles.
- Todd Graham’s Sun Devils do not have the best defense but their offense is one that can be plugged interchangably with either QB Taylor Kelly or Mark Bercovici and run well. Kelly, after missing more than a month due to a foot injury, emerged as the passing leader throwing for 180 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in 24-10 win over Washington. After beating both Stanford and Washington, two of the best defenses in the Pac 12, Arizona State has to prove it can survive one more battle against a staunch defense this Saturday when Utah comes to Tempe.
- The only routine nightgame happened to be one that involved the guy who lives by the word – Nick Saban. Alabama dispatched with a tenacious Tennessee team 34-20 in a game that looks closer than it truly reflected. With a bye week before LSU on November 8th, the Tide are currently enjoying a favorable ranking because of the Crimson colored glasses that AP journalists have worn since 2009.
- Nebraska skipped their way to a win over Rutgers in a 42-24 game where Ameer Abdullah recorded another game with over 200 yards of rushing. This was after he became the only player in school history to record over 1,000 rushing yards in his third year.
- Auburn survived South Carolina in a 42-35 back-and-forth that ended after South Carolina failed to deliver an answer on their final drive.
- For your information: Pitt fumbled every drive in the first five minutes of their game against Georgia Tech. Also, a fat guy threw a touchdown pass. I said, “A FAT GUY THREW A TOUCHDOWN PASS.”