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September 7, 2009
BYU's shocking victory over Oklahoma on Saturday thrust the Cougars into the national title picture and all but ended the Sooners' title hopes - and all but extinguished Sam Bradford's chances for a Heisman repeat.
Coming into the season, much was made of Oklahoma's rebuilt offensive line, and that line did not play well against a BYU defense that was shredded by TCU, Utah and Arizona last season. New right tackle Cory Brandon had an especially tough night, being called for five of OU's 12 penalties.
Oklahoma allowed just one sack, but the OU running game produced just 118 yards and the Sooners finished with just 265 yards total. In addition, OU linemen struggled to handle BYU's blitzes, and it was blitzing linebacker Coleby Clawson's hit that knocked Bradford out of the game in the second quarter.
Oklahoma also was uncharacteristically sloppy; the Sooners lost just two fumbles last season but lost two in the first half of Saturday's 14-13 loss.
BYU's defense, which seemed a half-step slow against top-level opponents last season, looked markedly faster Saturday. Then again, perhaps that was because not only was OU's line new but also two of its three starting wide receivers and its tight end. OU never seemed in sync offensively, even when Bradford was in the game, and it could take a while to jell now with backup quarterback Landry Jones - a redshirt freshman from New Mexico - at the controls for at least the next two games.
"We have a lot of experience back on defense, so whether Sam's in there or Landry's in there, it doesn't matter," Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. "We expect them to play well and I expect them to be a few plays better than they were [against BYU]."
Oklahoma will get well this week when Idaho State - a bad Football Championship Subdivision team - heads to Norman. But that's it for easy games for a while. After Idaho State, the Sooners get Tulsa, a week off, visit Miami, play host to Baylor, meet Texas in Dallas and play at Kansas. Games also remain against Nebraska (road), Texas Tech (road) and Oklahoma State.
Suddenly, a season that looked so bright now might end with two or three losses.
As for BYU, the Cougars now become a trendy pick to "bust" the BCS. But the Cougars' road to a BCS bid is a lot tougher than Boise State's.
Actually, BYU's road games are a breeze - Tulane, UNLV, San Diego State, Wyoming and New Mexico, none of which played in a bowl last season. It's the home games that will be tough. Florida State comes calling Sept. 19 in the last tough non-conference game. There also are difficult Mountain West Conference games against TCU on Oct. 24, Air Force on Nov. 21 and archrival Utah on Nov. 28. And BYU's line has issues; the Cougars also have four new starters, and they rushed for just 28 yards and allowed four sacks to OU.
The good news for BYU is that it has won 18 in a row at home, and the Cougars beat Oklahoma without star running back Harvey Unga, who was out with an injury. In addition, they were playing with three new starting wide receivers, and quarterback Max Hall - behind a new line and throwing to the new receivers - passed for 329 yards.
The BCS stakes are much higher for BYU than Boise State. Given the rest of its schedule, Boise State is playing for "just" a BCS bid, not a spot in the title game. But given the rest of its schedule, BYU will be able to make a strong case for a spot in the title game if it finishes unbeaten. Victories over Oklahoma, Florida State, TCU and Utah would be impressive, especially assuming those teams have between one and three losses apiece.
BYU's upset also further improves the Mountain West's national profile. A league that produced the nation's only unbeaten team last season now can further crow. The victory is "one more positive acknowledgment for our league that can't be overlooked," Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall told the media Saturday night.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson was in the BYU locker room after the game, and he was said to be beaming. We doubt the commissioners of the Big Six conferences were doing the same.
A reversal of fortune
Hopefully, for Oklahoma State's sake, you kept watching.
Georgia moved 80 yards on 10 plays on the first drive of the game, culminating in a 4-yard touchdown pass from Joe Cox to Michael Moore. The drive took 5 minutes, 14 seconds, and 42 yards came on the ground.
After that, Oklahoma State's defense dominated. Georgia gained just 177 yards the rest of the way, including just 53 more on the ground. Free safety Lucien Antoine, cornerback Perrish Cox and linebacker Donald Booker - starting only because Orie Lemon was lost to an injury early last week - played solid football, with Antoine especially standing out. The Cowboys' defensive line, with the exception of end Shane Jarka, really didn't make that many plays. But they did muck up things at the line, enabling Antoine, Booker, Cox and others in the back seven an opportunity to make tackles.
Georgia had 60 plays; the Bulldogs ran it 30 times and passed it 30 times. The mix should have been 40/20 because no way was Georgia going to win if Cox had to go to the air that often. A Bulldogs offensive line that was supposed to be a team strength instead struggled. And while new running back Richard Samuel is a tough runner, he doesn't possess breakaway speed like predecessor Knowshon Moreno. The Bulldogs missed backup tailback Caleb King, who is more of a breakaway threat.
And while Moore caught the touchdown pass, he was invisible the rest of the game. The Bulldogs need to quickly find a No. 2 receiver to complement A.J. Green. Too often Saturday, Green was covered and no other receiver was able to make a play.
For all the praise heaped upon Oklahoma State's defense, the Cowboys actually face a much tougher test this week, when high-powered Houston comes to town. Cougars quarterback Case Keenum is much better than Cox, and he has a much deeper receiving corps; he also has a breakaway threat in the backfield in Bryce Beall.
While Oklahoma State's defense could struggle, the Cowboys' offense - which received some criticism for the way it was kept under wraps by Georgia's aggressive defense - should have a big day against a highly questionable Houston defense. In other words, things likely will be back to normal in Stillwater this week, with the offense being praised and the defense being criticized.
As for the Bulldogs, they play South Carolina this week in Athens. Then comes a trip to Arkansas, followed by visits from Arizona State and LSU. That means three of the next four games (all but the contest with Arkansas) are against teams that have defenses better than Oklahoma State's, so Bulldogs coach Mark Richt and his staff better get to work.
Paulus - surprise - can play
Count me as one of those who was a big-time Paulus detractor going into the season. But if he can look that good in the opener - albeit against a middling Big Ten team - Syracuse can win four or five games this season. Paulus was 19-of-31 for 167 yards, with a touchdown and a pick; he also was sacked three times. The interception came in overtime on a play in which he left the pocket to avoid the rush. That mistake can partly be attributed to rust; hey, he hadn't played in a real game in five years.
It will be a lot tougher this week, when he and Syracuse travel to Penn State, and it would be an accomplishment if he completes 50 percent of his passes against a Nittany Lions defense that is a lot faster than Minnesota's. But Paulus looked comfortable and almost at ease in the pocket, and when he truly gets his legs under him, he should be a competent quarterback. There aren't many of those in the Big East.
As for Weber, he was just 19-of-42, but he did throw for 248 yards. He and Eric Decker connected on nine receptions for 183 yards. The rest of Minnesota's receiving corps is pedestrian, and that could hurt in the next four weeks, when the Golden Gophers play Air Force, California, Northwestern and Wisconsin. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Minnesota start 2-3 or even 1-4.
A blast from the past
Wide receiver Fred Rouse, who was the No. 6 player in the '05 class, plays for Concordia. Defensive tackle Callahan Bright, the No. 14 player in the class, plays for Shaw. Both signed with Florida State out of high school. Bright never played a down for FSU because of academic reasons. Rouse played in 2005, then was kicked out of school. He attended UTEP but left there, too, before ending up at Concordia. Rouse has three TD receptions in two games this season.
Shaw is a NCAA Division II school. Concordia is a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, which technically does not sanction football, making Concordia the ultimate independent program.
Connecticut is looking to replace 2,083-yard rusher Donald Brown, and the Huskies had two 100-yard rushers in their 23-16 victory over Ohio. Starter Jordan Todman ran for 157 yards and backup Andre Dixon managed 100. So why did the Huskies struggle to put away Ohio? New starting quarterback Zach Frazer threw three picks and UConn also fumbled once.
Baylor won 24-21 at Wake Forest, and while it might have been the season opener, it still was a crucial victory for the Bears. Baylor hasn't been to a bowl since 1994, and the win over Wake gives the Bears a great chance to go 4-0 in non-conference play. Baylor has this weekend off, then plays host to Connecticut, FCS member Northwestern State (La.) and Kent State in its other three non-conference games. A 4-0 start would mean the Bears need to go just 2-6 in Big 12 play to earn bowl eligibility - and if they're eligible, they almost certainly would go bowling.
Give it up for Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and his staff. The Tide used all sorts of offensive formations in ripping through Virginia Tech's vaunted defense for 498 yards in a 34-24 victory. The usually staid Tide used a Wildcat formation, the "Pistol" formation and a few spread principles against the Hokies. One reason is that some of the formations lessen the strain on a rebuilt offensive line.
FCS member Idaho State finished with 37 total yards -including zero in the first half - in its 50-3 loss at Arizona State. It could get worse next week: The Bengals travel to play what should be an ornery Oklahoma team.
Mississippi State scored 45 points in pounding FCS member Jackson State. It was the highest point total for the Bulldogs since 2002, and they opened the game with an end-around pass that was incomplete. Next week will be a bigger test for the revamped offense: a trip to Auburn.
There were 38 games involving Football Bowl Subdivision and FCS members this weekend, and FCS teams won three - Villanova over Temple on Thursday and Richmond over Duke and William & Mary over Virginia on Saturday. The losses by Duke and Virginia obviously don't help the ACC's reputation. Virginia had 268 total yards and committed seven turnovers, including four fumbles. The Cavaliers get TCU, Southern Miss and North Carolina in the next three weeks. An 0-4 start looms, and you have to figure UVa athletic director Craig Littlepage already has a list of possible successors to coach Al Groh. Temple coach Al Golden - a former Cavs assistant - might be on that list, but unless the Owls right themselves this season, what Golden already has accomplished at Temple might not matter.
Another name to remember when coaches start getting fired - Buffalo's Turner Gill. It's somewhat surprising Gill still is at Buffalo after last season's MAC title. The Bulls were expected to struggle this season, mainly because star quarterback Drew Willy was a senior last season and stud running back James Starks was lost for the season with an injury suffered in fall drills. But the Bulls upset UTEP 23-17 on Saturday night behind new quarterback Zach Maynard and a surprisingly tough defense. The win came despite standout wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt being injured in the second half. UTEP looked to have scored the winner on a 20-yard TD pass in the final seconds, but the Miners were called for two penalties on the play - a hold and a personal foul, which cost them 30 yards and forced a "Hail Mary" on their final play. That increases the heat on Miners coach Mike Price, whose team has been a disappointment the past two seasons.
Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer scored on a 65-yard run on Tech's first play from scrimmage in a rout of Jacksonville State, and new Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien completed an 80-yard scoring pass to Isaac Anderson on the Badgers' first play from scrimmage in a win over Northern Illinois.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno was on the sideline for the first time since midway through last season; he spent the final seven games of the 2008 season in the press box because of injuries and a hip replacement. He had to be happy with the Nittany Lions' first half, which ended with a 31-0 lead over Akron. But Penn State didn't score in the second half. Penn State plays host to Syracuse this week in a game that became more intriguing because of Paulus' play Saturday.
Further evidence that stats can lie. Florida Atlantic and Nebraska each had 22 first downs Saturday. The Huskers rolled 49-7.