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Down and Out in College Football: Alabama Is Your Team of the Millennium

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Game of the Millennium… Alabama and LSU deaden each other on impact. Alabama and Texas A&M heighten each other to an almost scary extent. A 49-42 scoreline. Multiple, comprehensive momentum swings. 62 first downs. Just 14 third downs. 500-plus total yards from Johnny Manziel. 279 yards receiving by Mike Evans. The game, however monikered, lived up to the hype. Its intensity and pace left Gary and Verne mired in their own malapropisms.

Much was made about stopping Johnny Manziel. Alabama did not do it. Even though, with less dumb luck, his stats would have looked worse. As we mentioned Friday, the real answer for the Tide to beat A&M was simple: executing. This time, they did that. A.J. McCarron completed 20/29 for 334 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions. T.J. Yeldon pounded a soft A&M front. They won the turnover battle and made some big plays on defense.

This win was imperative for Alabama. It was the major test on their schedule. Only LSU and Ole Miss may pose a credible threat before Atlanta. The Tide play both at home and, barring a sea change, as a double-digit favorite. For Texas A&M, their 113th-ranked yards per play defense may keep events more entertaining than thy would prefer, but 11-1 remains within reach. But unlike Alabama, the Aggies play LSU and Ole Miss on the road.

As for the Heisman, McCarron reinserted himself into the conversation. Manziel kept himself there “in a losing effort.” However, some teammates may undercut their star quarterbacks. Yeldon could go on a monster run through the remainder of Alabama’s schedule. The uncoverable Evans, through the first three games, has 20 catches for 518 yards and three touchdowns.

USATSI_7432566_153192880_lowresCollege football can make you wonder why you care so much… The 37-point favorite Wolverines escaped by a rogue nose hair against Akron, 28-24. They had to thwart two fourth quarter drives inside their own five to earn that margin, against a team that last beat an FBS opponent in 2010. Brady Hokes apparently granite foundation turned to sand. The stadium went silent. It felt, strangely, familiar.

Natural comparisons return to the recent past, losses to Appalachian State in 2007 and Toledo in 2008. This was on par with that, almost. It harkens back, though, to a tradition of non-conference letdowns late in the Carr era. Michigan barely edged Utah 10-7 in 2002, needed two missed fourth quarter field goals in a 24-21 win over San Diego State in 2004 and needed a goal line stand in a 34-26 win over Brady Hoke’s Ball State in 2006.  Those teams weren’t Akron bad, but each failed to reach a bowl game.

When you turn the ball, don’t convert third downs and allow third down conversions, you increase the other team’s probability of winning. Even if that team, by all measures beforehand, stinks. This game was a lesson. Folks in Ann Arbor will be thankful it was only that.

The end is nigh… Greg Robinson is not a wizard. He’s an NFL coach. He did not have “bad players” at Syracuse and Michigan. He had teams that played with poor fundamentals, which one must teach in college. That’s the area where Texas needs improvement. To no one’s surprise, Robinson failed to deliver it, in less than a week. A talented Ole Miss lined up, ran the ball 45 times and won by three touchdowns.

Either Mack Brown’s staff overestimated this team, or this Texas team, flush with returning starters, is markedly under-performing. Neither is a good look for this coaching staff, embattled entering the season. The Longhorns can still play for the Big 12. But, with even Mack going through the motions, it’s hard to see that prospect as realistic.

USATSI_7432259_153192880_lowresSecond half adjustments… Through two games, UCLA has outscored opponents 72-7 in the second half. The Bruins scored touchdowns on their first four drives after halftime against Nebraska. They did it on their first five against Nevada. Diagnosing and addressing problems mid-game leads to good things, like 38 unanswered points against a ranked opponent.

Bizarre Ending… Setting up for a game-winning field goal, Wisconsin QB Joel Stave tried to center the ball with 18 seconds left. The trouble was he laid the ball down, without obviously going to the ground. Wisconsin waited for the ball to be reset. ASU hopped on what they thought was a fumble. Officials ruled him down, but did not reset the ball in time. The Badgers could not spike the ball in time. 32-30 Arizona State. The Pac-12 reprimanded the officials for not “acting with the appropriate urgency.”

Circumstances… Oregon TE Colt Lyerla was not at Autzen Stadium on Saturday. When asked why, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich replied “circumstances” and refused to elaborate. The noted gun nut has had some “circumstances” in his past, which led to speculation the issue was disciplinary. But, according to Lyerla, he missed the game because he  was sick during the week and missed practice. Not commenting on injuries and/or discipline is SOP at Oregon and elsewhere. But outscoring opponents 184-27 does not offer much in the way of narrative.

USATSI_7432608_153192880_lowresFighting On… Lane Kiffin’s USC…covered and then some against Boston College in a 35-7 win. 521 total yards. 5/10 third downs. Tre Madden and Justin Davis combined for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. Cody Kessler completed 15/17 for two touchdowns, hitting eight different receivers. The defense, once again outstanding, ranks third nationally in yards allowed per play. Either this team has more life than anticipated, or Boston College remains a flagrant counterpoint to the ACC resurgence claim.

This was written…  From the San Francisco Chronicle “In return, Cal showed Ohio State what it’s like to play football at a fabulous new facility with integrity and ingenuity. You know, with great weather and amateur players and all the rest. Call it a draw, with the Buckeyes winning on the field and the Bears winning in life.”

QB Continuity… The Big 12 faced a transition year in 2013, with six of ten teams starting different quarterbacks. Three weeks into the season, five of the ten have already started multiple quarterbacks. That tally includes Texas and TCU who have been dumped from the Top 25 after losing twice.

[Photos via USA Today Sports]

 

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