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The Morning After: Alabama and Oregon Are Title Game Worthy, Notre Dame Escapes, Kevin Sumlin is Building a Juggernaut

Last night, Alabama and Oregon showed a clear dichotomy. The Tide are staid. The Ducks are flashy. Chip Kelly slashes. Nick Saban prefers a slow, persistent suffocation. They also displayed what they have in common. Both brushed aside the best shots from talented opponents playing at home. These are the nation’s two best teams. Given the present system, they are the two that should meet in the title game.

Alabama looked the part. This may not be last year’s LSU team. This was still a top five team with a top five defense, playing at night in an intimidating home environment. Les Miles hindered the Tigers with questionable decisions but this team gave an awesome performance. It was not good enough. The Tide did what they had to do on offense, with Lacy and Yeldon combining for 159 yards on 22 carries. They executed their final touchdown drive with aplomb.

The Tide did what they had to do on defense. They manned up against LSU’s running attack, restricting them to 2.8 yards per carry. They forced the game onto Zach Mettenberger’s arm. Credit the LSU quarterback. He had a career day, completing 69 percent of his passes and amassing 298 yards. Alabama did not let this translate nto points. The Tigers pierced Alabama territory with six drives and came away with two touchdowns. If beating LSU by four at home at night on a day where Zach Mettenberger turns from goat to god is cause for criticism, it is only because Alabama has looked even more awesome for most of this season.

Oregon looked the part. When in rhythm the Ducks offense appears indomitable. There was never a doubt this team would score when needed. Oregon earned touchdowns on its first five drives to start the game. They came back out in the second half and scored three-straight touchdowns. Freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 20/23 passes for four touchdowns and had 400 total yards. He was outshone by running back Kenjon Barner who put up 347 yards and five touchdowns on 40 touches. They aren’t even getting the most out of De’Anthony Thomas.

Oregon’s defensive effort will draw criticism, far more than it should. The aggregate numbers (615 total yards, 51 points) look bad. First, teams that run more plays on offense face more plays on defense. USC has averaged 7.0 yards per play in 2012. Oregon held them to 7.7. Second, Oregon’s offense changes the goal for its defense. Big plays don’t matter as much, freeing the Ducks to be aggressive and takes chances to force turnovers. Their defense allowed two 75-yard touchdowns. What they did not do was allow USC to slow down the tempo with sustained drives down the field.

Dominant teams beat down bad teams and control games against good ones. Alabama and Oregon do that better than anyone. They are the only teams that look equipped to beat each other. Apologies to Kansas State and Notre Dame fans.

Still Undefeated: Everett Golson donned his cape. Notre Dame outlasted Pitt 29-26 in overtime, after trailing 20-6 at home in the fourth quarter. This Irish team displayed both its resilience and the reason it won’t play for the BCS title. This team is often well-coached and has a very good to great defense. They have also won five games by one score or less. Two of those came in overtime. Only one of those wins, Stanford, was against a team that was ranked in the top 25 heading into this weekend.

Breaks in one score games can determine the difference between greatness and mediocrity. The Irish are 5-0 in such games in 2012, after going a more reasonable 4-6 in Brian Kelly’s first two years. A little bit of luck can make all the difference. For the inverse of this, see Michigan State. The Spartans were 8-1 in one-score games in 2010 and 2011, only losing the 2011 Big Ten title game. In 2012, they are 3-4.

Building a Juggernaut: Texas A&M destroyed Mississippi State 38-13 in Starkville, putting that “great defense” narrative to sleep with a balanced 693 total yards. Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies are now 4-2 in their first SEC season. For some perspective, Derek Dooley has four SEC wins total in three seasons. All four wins have come against SEC West opponents. That equals Dan Mullen’s total in the division since 2009. Sumlin is no longer selling himself and the SEC. He’s selling himself winning in the SEC. If he can begin locking down Houston and intruding into Louisiana, he’s going to be a problem for more than just Texas.

Lap Dances For Everyone: Boise State lost 21-19 to San Diego State on the smurf turf. Nebraska beat Michigan State 28-24 on the road. The results, in concert, may prevent a member of the great unwashed piercing the rarified BCS air. The one plausible candidate left is Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs will struggle passing an 11-2 Nebraska.

Devin MF Gardner: Devin Gardner, the top dual-threat QB recruit in 2010, filled in for an injured Denard Robinson after playing wide receiver the entire season. He looked fantastic, shaking off a poor start to produce some huge plays and three total touchdowns. He’s not Denard on the ground, but he’s five inches taller with a better arm and superior passing instincts. Michigan’s 2013 prospects look much brighter. If Gardner can play at that level, he may push Denard for playing time in 2012.

Twitter Ban Imminent: Michigan State’s season has had two concurrent motifs: disappointment and players saying dumb things unprovoked. In past weeks it has been poking fun at Denard Robinson or talking up “the Woodshed,” before losing four home games. This week multiple prominent players took to twitter, blaming their defeat on the referees. It was the referees, after all, who completed 33 percent of pass attempts and conceded nearly eight yards per carry to a Nebraska team missing Rex Burkhead.

Impotence: It is hard for Colorado to be notably bad. They managed. The Buffaloes amassed just 103 total yards against Stanford. They had a stretch of seven-straight drives lasting three plays or less. Combined, those drives produced -3 yards. How far has this program fallen? Rivals has scouted 15 four or five-star recruits from the state of Colorado since 2010. The University of Colorado, with Mitch Parsons’ decommitment, has not signed a single one of them.

Highlight You Might Have Missed… Louisiana-Lafayette’s Jamal Robinson leaped for an incredible one-handed grab against Louisiana-Monroe.

Stephen Orr Spurrier Quote of the Week: Mike Leach was not impressed by his team’s offensive line performance in a 49-6 loss to Utah. “Our five couldn’t whip their two. Sometimes they only brought two. Our five couldn’t whip their two. Which means, if five of our guys went in an alley and got in a fight with two of theirs, we would have gotten massacred. That’s just ridiculously inexcusable. It was one of the most heartless efforts up front I’ve seen; and our defensive line wasn’t any better.”

Telling Stat: Kansas State has scored 111 points this season off opponent turnovers. Opponents have scored zero points off Kansas State turnovers.

[Photos via Presswire]

 

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