Stanford-USC was a ten-round, technically on-point boxing match with a shocking finish. Crediting it cheaply, it was one of the best football games we’ve seen played this season. Stanford was tested, against a jacked up opponent playing at home with better athletes, and they passed.
Matt Barkley may be a good NFL quarterback, but Andrew Luck is just on another level. He’s like you and I, but if we created ourselves on NCAA 12. His intelligence and vision are unparalleled. He has a great, accurate arm and the athleticism to run and to set his upper body for a perfect throw while on the run. Even a few of his incompletions, where you could see what he was trying to do, were jaw-dropping. He did throw the awful pick six. He also regrouped immediately and led the Cardinal on a cool, methodical 76-yard fourth quarter drive to force overtime. Heisman winner. No. 1 draft pick. Next great NFL quarterback.
What did this game tell us about Stanford? Offensively, they dictate the action. They can’t out-athlete teams but they can out-execute just about anyone. Teams with physicality on the line that force Stanford to account for an entire front, such as USC, can give them trouble. Defensively, the Cardinal really missed Delano Howell in the secondary. Teams with top-end speed that can stretch the field horizontally or vertically will give them some problems. Imperfect? Sure. Though, don’t forget. This is Stanford, in the BCS title mix.
What does this tell us about USC? It showed their potential. Kiffin has brought in a ton of talent. Most of it is young and will return more experienced next year. Attrition from the sanctions will not yet have set in. If Matt Barkley returns they should start the season in the top five. That said, Kiffin still has his worrisome qualities. The screen pass on the final regulation play was a terrible call. Whining about it afterward displayed his customary level of class. It was all the referee’s fault! Don’t mention the egregious hold that wasn’t called that let USC set up the final play or the incredible penalty disparity in USC’s favor. It’s hard to see Lane Kiffin avoiding a Lane Kiffin moment and stewarding a team to an undefeated season.
Humanized: Back to back road weeks. Back to back shots to the groin for Wisconsin. Kirk Cousins’ late bomb ended the Badgers’ BCS Title ambitions. Braxton Miller’s even more unlikely one may have derailed their chance to win the Big Ten title. Fate dealt a savage blow, but after Bret Beilema ran up 83 on Indiana, ran up 70 on Northwestern and went for two up 25 in the fourth quarter to Minnesota in home games last year, he might have had it coming. Few in B1G country are feeling much sympathy. The Badgers were outplayed on both lines of scrimmage. They could not establish their running game (just 89 yards). Against an Ohio State team that posed almost zero passing threat, they could not stop the run and get them off the field (11/20 on third down). That’s not a recipe for victory in any league.
Wisconsin’s loss makes the Leaders’ Division, once thought to be a fait accompli for the Badgers, very interesting. Wisconsin and Ohio State, both 2-2, trail a 5-0 Penn State by 2.5 games. The Nittany Lions – whose offense has just 12 touchdowns in 30 red zone appearances (116th in the country) – are in the drivers’ seat for the B1G title game. Alas, they must drive through Nebraska at home and road dates with Wisconsin and Ohio State. Worst Case Scenario for B1G: Penn State in the Rose Bowl against an undefeated Stanford team with a point to emphasize.
On Total Defense: Oklahoma State ranks 110th in total defense, allowing 456 yards per game. They allowed 622 total yards to Baylor on Saturday. That stat is dumb. The Cowboys beat Baylor by 35. The Air Raid offense is run at a quick tempo, increasing the total number of plays and, hopefully, yards and points. By running that offense, you concede time of possession and increase the number of plays your opponent runs. Baylor ran up 622 yards, because they ran 105 plays. Oklahoma State held Baylor to 5.9 yards per play (1.3 less than their season average).
The Cowboys are 110th in total yardage conceded, but on a yards per play basis their 5.5 is 59th, slightly worse than Michigan and USC and slightly better than Kansas State, Arizona State, Arkansas and Clemson. Can a terrible defense win the BCS title? No. Can an average defense with a penchant for turnover creation? Perhaps.
Pulling a Clemson: Clemson definitively pulled a Clemson. The Tigers ramped up expectations after an 8-0 start. They then dropped a game on the road most expected them to win. Realistically, we shouldn’t be disappointed. Chad Morris has been working miracles on offense, but Dabo Swinney’s team, though talented, has been dependent on underclassmen on both sides of the ball. A hiccup or two was inevitable. 10-2 with a shot at the ACC Title would still be a very impressive season for this team.
Pulling a Michigan State: Mark Dantonio has revitalized Michigan State football, but he has yet to master his team’s tendency to choke violently in big games on the road outside Michigan. In 2008: Ohio State (45-7) and Penn State (49-18) cost Sparty a shot at a BCS bid. Ditto in 2010: Iowa (37-6). Notre Dame (31-13) and now Nebraska (24-3) could do so again in 2011.
Michigan State was not felled by turnovers. They were fortunate with them. The Spartans just got beat and it starts at quarterback. Kirk Cousins seems like a lovely fellow, he’s eloquent and he has striking blue eyes. He’s also startlingly less effective on the road and unreliable under pressure. After an (on paper) masterful performance against Wisconsin, Cousins completed just four out of his first 16 passes, displaying his penchant for terrible reads.
The Spartans have the easiest route to the finish (Minnesota, at Iowa, Indiana, at Northwestern), though, to reach Indianapolis, they may need Michigan to upset Nebraska at home.
Pure Domination: Fortunately for Turner Gill, this was on the Longhorn Network so very few people saw this 43-0 debacle. Texas held Kansas to 46 total yards of offense (-2 on the ground). The Jayhawks did not cross into Longhorn territory until the final drive of the game, when they were down by 43. Texas, still finding its sea legs on offense, possessed the ball for 44 minutes, running up 590 total yards and 441 rushing. They had They were 11/16 on third down conversions. The disturbing part? Kansas held an opponent under seven yards per play and under 50 points. This was one of their best defensive performances this year.
Gunned Down: Upsetting Oklahoma showed why the national media has a soft-spot for big-game Tommy. Getting the down blows off 41-7 by a conference winless Iowa State at home showed why fans of his teams are distinctly less enthralled. The Red Raiders, normally a bear in Lubbock, are just 1-3 against FBS teams there this season, the one win was 35-34 against Nevada. Tuberville is now 13-8 after inheriting a program that had won 29 games its last three seasons under Mike Leach.
[Photo via Getty]