Week 2 of the NCAA football season was highlighted by Houston's impressive win over No. 5 Oklahoma State. Though it's shocking that the Cowboys were upset in Stillwater, this is just another game that shouldn't really be seen as a shocker. Led by Case Keenum, the Cougars last year boasted the second-most prolific passing attack in the country, and Keenum didn't disappoint Saturday as he slashed through the Cowboys' defense to the tune of 366 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Coach Kevin Sumlin has built on a system that has developed All-Americans and a Heisman Trophy winner (Andre Ware back in 1989), but he's also improving an already dangerous triple-option offense. Like Texas Tech, when you see the Cougars on the other sideline, you know they're going to throw the ball. The question is, can you stop it before they get out to an insurmountable lead?
I owe Ohio State and all the Buckeyes fans an apology. Though USC won, the closest I saw Ohio State getting was 17 points. Being a diehard SEC fan, I witnessed the recent beatings the Buckeyes have taken at the hands of Florida and LSU. But Saturday, I saw something a little different from Ohio State: an inner swagger from a team missing its top three offensive and top five defensive contributors from 2008. This "new" Buckeyes team definitely tested a talented USC squad and pushed them to the limit. It took a last-second touchdown to finally knock them off.
But all in all, this contest bodes well for both teams, because it revealed to USC the importance of playing at a high level, especially against a team that you should beat. Ohio State, too, despite the loss, has plenty of positives on which to focus. The consensus entering Saturday was that the Buckeyes couldn't keep up with the speed of top teams in big games. To score more points than USC for 59 minutes, 45 seconds without Beanie Wells, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, and to hold USC to 10 points for the same amount of time without James Laurinaitis and Malcom Jenkins is as close to a win as you can get. Couple that with Terrelle Pryor, despite a few miscues, really emerging as a leader and I feel confident in marking this game as a turning point for the Buckeyes moving forward.
Irish Eyes May Still Be Smiling
The "pink-slip" game between Michigan and Notre Dame was definitely a morale booster for Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines, but there was no bigger benefactor than freshman Tate Forcier. The return of tailback Brandon Minor — and the 106 yards he added — provided balance, but this game showed that Rodriguez finally has his quarterback after 2008's signal-caller carousel. Forcier is no Pat White, but going 23-for-33 for 240 yards and two touchdowns and adding 70 yards and a touchdown on the ground is a great start for a program new to the spread offense. Looking ahead, the schedule for Michigan is very manageable — their toughest games, against Penn State and Ohio State, are both at home. Pending a road loss to Iowa or Wisconsin, this Michigan team has the potential to finish 9-3 or 8-4.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, by earning a moral victory of sorts, falls in the same line as Ohio State. Jimmy Clausen finally stepped up and had a huge day on a big stage, going 25-of-42 for 336 yards and three touchdowns. The emergence of Armando Allen Jr. and his 139 yards rushing on 21 carries helped the Fighting Irish overcome an 11-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter, though it wasn't ultimately enough for a win. Notre Dame's 2009 outlook, though, is still promising: The only ranked opponent they face the rest of the way is when they host USC. Outside of a slip-up at Purdue or at home against Navy, the Fighting Irish have a pretty clear-cut shot at a double-digit-win season and a possible BCS berth.
Newbies Boost Bulldogs
Saturday had to have been one of the toughest pills coach Steve Spurrier has had to swallow while at South Carolina. It seemed as if Georgia's Mark Richt was all out of weapons: Matthew Stafford, Knowshon Moreno and Mohamed Massaquoi are all in the NFL. A.J. Green is a known — yet explosive — commodity, automatically making him the No. 1 weapon for which the Gamecocks needed to account. What could be left?
Enter 5-foot-11, 171-pound freshman cornerback Branden Smith.
Smith was all over the field Saturday, making a 48-yard kickoff return that he nearly broke for six. But no play in this early season was as explosive as when the Bulldogs ran a reverse to Smith a minute into the second quarter. For a split second, Smith looked like he'd be corralled by the surrounding Gamecocks defenders. Then Smith turned the corner, found a lane and separated himself from the defense. With that score, Georgia took a 21-17 lead and never looked back.
Both teams entered the game needing a new face in the running game. If you lean on the old adage, "The team that wins games is the one that can run the football," South Carolina was out of it from the start. Of the 49 plays the Gamecocks ran in the first half, they passed on 30 of them. Passing the ball that much, especially when it's ineffective, forces a ton of second- and third-and-longs, and the end result can be trading touchdowns for field goals. Despite the pick-six South Carolina got from Eric Norwood to get within a point of Georgia, the lack of offensive consistency ultimately did in the Gamecocks.
Volunteers Looking Ahead?
The rematch of the 2008 overtime thriller between UCLA and Tennessee proved to be a little less thrilling this time around, but was very telling nonetheless. You have to wonder if Tennessee's sputtering offense was a result of the team actually being that bad or if it was the squad's inability to stay focused on the game at hand, choosing instead to focus on the upcoming test against Florida.
Montario Hardesty built on his solid performance in last year's game with 89 yards on the ground and a touchdown, but Jonathan Crompton definitely took a step in the wrong direction after a solid season opener. Crompton's three interceptions highlighted a Tennessee offense that tallied only 208 yards total.
Though Kevin Prince didn't put up huge numbers for UCLA, the fact that a freshman entered an environment like Neyland Stadium and went 11-for-23 for 101 yards and a touchdown without turning the ball over says a lot both about him and the things coach Rick Neuheisel is doing for the program. The Volunteers with play better this week against the Gators, but the question is, will a bad loss to Florida start a free fall in Knoxville similar to 2008?
Tigers Romp in SEC Showdown
Lastly, there's my concession to my brother. There was a steak on the line for the winner of the Mississippi State-Auburn game, and Gene Chizik and the Tigers didn't disappoint. Auburn definitely brought back its traditional style, but kept a few spread offense-style wrinkles in the playbook that kept the Bulldogs off balance. Auburn may have found a new backfield duo in the process, as Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb picked up 157 and 114 yards on the ground, respectively. The biggest benefactor of that success on the ground had to be backup quarterback Kodi Burns. He overcame not being tapped as the starter by being a vocal leader on the sideline and running for three touchdowns in the spread schemes. Auburn can definitely make noise in the SEC West: They're solid defensively and running the football, and they have a system that utilizes the strengths of their top two quarterbacks.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, just simply ran into a buzz saw. There are just games where the other guy has everything working and there's nothing you can do about it. On the positive side, Sylvester Croom set a solid foundation, and Dan Mullen will take the team to the next level. The Bulldogs fell behind 14-0, but the offense, defense and special teams rallied to score 17 unanswered to take the lead late in the second quarter. True, Mississippi State didn't find the end zone again until the fourth quarter, but in recent years, if the Bulldogs were down 14, the game was over mentally.
Though they're a long way from competing for the SEC championship, there are bright spots, namely with sophomore quarterback Chris Relf. The way Mullen is using Relf and senior Tyson Lee behind center is very similar to the way he used Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida. There's a long road ahead, as Mississippi State hosts No. 9 LSU, No. 14 Georgia Tech, No. 21 Houston, No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Ole Miss, but look for a steady progression from the Bulldogs and for them to make a little noise in the future.
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