NCAA Football

Can Brian Kelly Ever Get Notre Dame Back to Elite Status?

Notre Dame's once promising season is officially in free fall.

After having the defending national champions on the ropes and missing their opportunity at a knockout punch, it's the Irish looking punch drunk and woozy as they close out a once-promising season with a train-wreck finish.

For the second straight week, senior kicker Kyle Brindza's watched the Irish's chances at victory sail wide of the goal posts. This week it was from 32 yards out, keeping the Irish from forcing overtime after fighting back from two different 11-point deficits. 

Louisville becomes the latest team to walk into Notre Dame Stadium and come out a winner. And the Cardinals did it in a way that was almost as painful for Irish fans to watch as Northwestern's victory. 

"We've lost back-to-back games because we couldn't out down a ball and kick it 32 yards," Kelly said bluntly. 

It's enough to send a football coach to Florida—in search of some much-needed R&R (not a new job, as some speculated). But if Brian Kelly thinks a few days at a beach can wash this November from his mind, he's only kidding himself.

A promising season has turned into a 7-4 Irish team with a trip to USC just a week away. And as the 2012 BCS title game becomes a distant memory, Kelly has lost four or more games in four of his five seasons. It's no wonder some people are openly wondering if Kelly's the guy to get Notre Dame back to elite status. 

But don't throw dirt on the Irish just yet. 

While this November swoon comes at the hands of Arizona State, Northwestern and Louisville—not exactly a terror-filled trio—there's still reason to believe that Kelly's team is closer to the top of the mountain than it looks after losing four of its last five games for the first time since Charlie Weis got run out of town. 

At this point, Notre Dame's defense looks like a group out of the Witness Protection Program. After jumping out to a hot start with Sheldon Day, Jarron Jones, Cody Riggs, Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith leading the way, only Smith remains. And his 11 tackles against Louisville weren't enough to stop the Cardinals from running for 229 yards. 

The Irish tried everything this week. They burned a redshirt on freshman Jay Hayes to try and add some bulk to the defensive line. They played Jacob Matuska, a redshirt freshman whose name analyst Doug Flutie needed help pronouncing. (Don't feel bad, Doug. Brian Kelly can't say his name right, either.)

Fifth-year safety Austin Collinsworth tried playing through a shoulder injury that should've ended his season. It showed, with Collinsworth swinging and missing as a tackler like Pedro Cerrano at a curveball. 

But all that youth will be better for being thrown into the fire, earning key reps in a home stretch where injuries continue to decimate the depth chart. The Irish will lose Riggs and Collinsworth not just from the starting lineup but also the two-deep depth chart. So while you might have been scratching your head wondering who the young kids were chasing after Louisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, they'll likely be part of next year's building blocks. 

"I think at one time I looked out there, and I think it was just Collinsworth," Kelly said, when asked about his young defense. "Everybody else was freshmen and sophomores on defense, so great experience. The ability to carry over will obviously be something that we believe that we can grow from. So, close losses, difficult losses that we hope that our team will grow from."

Offensively, Everett Golson threw another interception but picked up his game after a struggle in the first half. Golson played a capable triggerman, as sophomores William Fuller and Tarean Folston both went over 100 yards. Folston ran through the No. 2 rush defense in the country. Fuller outplayed DeVante Parker, Louisville's big-play receiver.

Add in a big punt return by Greg Bryant and some clutch catches by Chris Brown and Corey Robinson and the Irish's collection of playmakers return, playing behind an offensive line that will bring back four of five starters.

"This is a great group of guys and I know there’s a great deal of success for them in the future," senior captain Collinsworth said after his last home game. "This team never quits. They really genuinely love each other and will do anything for each other. Eventually, these guys will be champions, and I know that."

That won't be this season. But a quick look back at Notre Dame's last big run in 2012, and it's worth noting that it came after a frustrating, mistake-riddled 2011 season, a year with plenty of similarities to this one. Irish fans were wondering then if Kelly was the right man for the job, up until a 12-win, undefeated regular season. 

That hope might not be much. But it's something to cling to after a difficult stretch of football has Kelly looking for a silver lining. 

"They know that they easily could win any of the games they've played in," Kelly said postgame. "A mistake here or there and not executing at the time necessary has been the difference between a win and loss with this team. It's razor thin."

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Oregon Football: Are Ducks Ready for Tough Stretch Ahead?

The Colorado Buffaloes proved to be no match for second-ranked Oregon, as the Ducks cruised to a 44-10 victory. Now comes the hard part. 

Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) has played its final game at home this season and now must take on Oregon State in Corvallis before playing the Pac-12 South champion in Santa Clara on Dec. 5. Throw in the fact that the Ducks will be playing three games in 20 days and that the Ducks have been bit by the injury bug and you begin to understand how difficult these next two games will be.

There’s no doubt that Oregon is one of the best teams in the country and the class of the Pac-12. It will likely be favored by double-digit points in each of the next two games and will be in the College Football Playoff if it wins out. However, the Ducks will be tested not only by their schedule and their depth but also by the pressure that has been placed on them by fans and media alike.

Are the Ducks ready to take on the challenging road ahead? Or will they wilt in the face of the pressure that has decimated national-championship contenders before? Based on how the Ducks performed against Colorado, they look to be in good shape for the stretch run.

 

Ducks Cruise

If this was indeed Marcus Mariota’s last stand at Autzen Stadium, he went out in style. On the night, Mariota went 24-of-32 for 323 yards and three touchdowns. As always, Mariota also contributed with his legs, running for 73 yards and another score.

With those stats, Mariota now has 9,000 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in his Oregon career, placing him among other notable collegiate record holders, per The Oregonian's Andrew Greif:

When asked about the possibility of this being his last home game, Mariota said, "If this was my last game at Autzen, it was truly special," according to Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com.

Mariota’s performance against Colorado exemplifies why he’s the Heisman Trophy front-runner. He was accurate, elusive and didn’t play down to his opponent. In short, he was brilliant.

Mariota also set yet another record Saturday, as he set the single-season Pac-12 record for touchdowns scored with 42, surpassing the mark set by USC’s Matt Barkley (41). On the season, Mariota has thrown for 32 touchdowns and rushed for nine. He also has a receiving touchdown just for good measure. Pac-12 Networks noted Mariota's accomplishment:

Of course, the redshirt junior didn’t do it all on his own. Oregon’s stitched-together offensive line played well, and the running game shined, as true freshman Royce Freeman once again proved to be too much for Pac-12 defenses.

Freeman rushed for his fourth 100-yard game of the season and scored touchdowns No. 15 and No. 16 of the season. Freeman also became the first true freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season in Oregon history. Greif highlighted Freeman's history-making performance:

With 16 touchdowns already under his belt, Freeman is now only seven touchdowns away from breaking the Oregon single-season record. With as many as four games left this season (if the Ducks make it to the national championship), it’s within the realm of possibility that Freeman could own that record as a true freshman.

Against Colorado, the Ducks offense gained 597 yards—332 passing and 265 rushing—and averaged 7.7 yards per play. Oregon could have easily dropped 70 on Colorado if it wanted to.

While Oregon’s offense was as efficient as ever, it was really the Ducks’ defense that was surprising.

Oregon’s defense was ranked No. 103 in the country in total defense and No. 52 in scoring defense coming into the Colorado game. I’m not quite sure where those Ducks were on Saturday, as Oregon’s defense dominated a Colorado offense that had been averaging 29.8 points per game.

The Ducks held the Buffaloes to 10 points and 226 total yards, despite the fact that they did not force a turnover—something the Ducks have done in each of their past nine games. Yes, Colorado was at a disadvantage because their starting quarterback, Sefo Liufau, didn’t start the game due to a head injury.

However, Mark Helfich provided a comment regarding Mariota, interestingly describing his importance to the team...and to the world apparently, via Moseley:

Still, Oregon’s defense shut down all aspects of Colorado’s offense. Moreover, the Ducks corralled wide receiver Nelson Spruce, limiting him to only two catches for 16 yards. Coming into the game, Spruce had caught an average of 9.9 passes per game.

All three phases were firing for the Ducks against Colorado. However, it wasn't all good news, as the injury bug once again struck.

In the third quarter, defensive end DeForest Buckner seemed to have suffered a knee injury after being on the receiving end of a chop block. Losing Buckner for an extended period of time would be a huge blow to a Ducks defense that seems to be getting better as the year goes on. Despite the injury list getting longer, the Ducks keep ripping off victory after victory.

While the Ducks played very well, head coach Mark Helfrich was annoyed by Oregon's eight penalties.

"We played hard. We prepared hard," Helfrich told reporters, according to Moseley. "We didn't play very smart. That's gotta be our edge."

Regardless, the Ducks came away with their sixth straight win in impressive fashion.

Oregon has won its past six games by an average of 23.8 points per game. Needless to say, the Ducks are on the right track and have been for some time.

Can the Ducks continue this hot streak through the next two games and propel themselves in the College Football Playoff? They can, but first they must get through a two-game, 13-day stretch that will test every coach and player in the Oregon program. 

The Road Ahead

Despite the fact that Oregon has won the last six games against Oregon State and hasn’t lost in Corvallis since 2006, the Beavers are not a team that should be overlooked. Just ask Arizona State.

Until two weeks ago, the Beavers were considered to be a walkover for talented Pac-12 teams. Sitting at 4-5, the Beavers hosted then-No. 6 ASU and came away with a 35-27 victory that changed not only the Pac-12 South race but also the College Football Playoff landscape. Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com tweeted a question/statement, depending on the viewpoint, regarding "early overreaction" as it relates to Oregon:

Corvallis, especially at night, is an incredibly tough venue to play in, and the Beavers have won five of their past 10 games against AP Top 25-ranked teams at home.

There’s little chance that the Ducks overlook the Beavers, especially when you consider the rivalry. That being said, Oregon State’s upset of the Sun Devils may be the best thing that has happened to the Ducks this season. If there was a chance the Ducks were going to look past Oregon State, it went out the window with that upset.

Still, the Beavers will come to play and should put up a better fight against the Ducks than Colorado did on Saturday. When asked if Oregon State was dangerous, Helfrich quickly responded "no question," according to Brianna Amaranthus of CSNNW.com.

If the Ducks are able to leave Corvallis victorious, a Pac-12 title game against UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona or USC would be waiting six days later.

The Ducks have an advantage in the championship game based on the fact that they’re familiar with Levi’s Stadium (they played Cal there earlier this season). However, all the pressure will be on the Ducks, as they will be playing for not only a Pac-12 title but also a spot in the playoff.

The Ducks have been in this situation before and have crumbled. Not to rehash bad memories, but the Ducks were assured of a trip to the national championship in 2012 before falling at home to Stanford. In 2013, it was Stanford again who tripped up an undefeated Ducks squad. The Ducks also lost in the national title game to Auburn in 2011.

The Ducks have seen the pinnacle, but thus far they’ve been unable to plant their flag at the top of the mountain. Can they finally handle the pressure and win the big games when they need to? These next two games will show us all we need to know about the 2014 Ducks.

Oregon is firmly in the College Football Playoff with two weeks left in the season. Only two games stand between Oregon and a Jan. 1 playoff game.

Neither Oregon State nor any of the four remaining Pac-12 contenders are going to beat the Ducks. Only the Ducks can beat the Ducks. 

Oregon’s motto for the next two weeks is simple: Don’t trip.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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Oregon Football: Are Ducks Ready for Tough Stretch Ahead?

The Colorado Buffaloes proved to be no match for second-ranked Oregon, as the Ducks cruised to a 44-10 victory. Now comes the hard part...

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UCLA Players Get Creative with Face Paint vs. USC

UCLA punter Matt Mengel decided that two lines under his eyes was just too played out, so he decided to take it up a notch with a full series of eye-black lines.

Not to be outdone, defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes made sure to cover the majority of his face.

[Twitter]

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Alabama Football: Tide Can't Afford a Slow Start vs. Auburn

Do slow starts happen, sometimes to even the best of the best? Of course.

Do the great teams find ways to overcome them? You bet.

But the fact that Alabama, which beat Western Carolina 48-14 on Saturday, fell behind 7-0 early in the first quarter and was leading just 17-14 with under seven minutes to play in the first half, is at least to some degree disconcerting one week before the Iron Bowl.

That kind of slow start against the Tigers will see the Tide down two scores, and 38 first-half points probably aren't going to come against Auburn.

So what was behind Alabama's slow start on Saturday?

Well, the Catamounts mounted an impressive opening drive to start the game, going 75 yards in nine plays in just three seconds over three minutes to take a 7-0 lead.

Against Auburn, that's the type of drive that'll set the tone for an entire game.

Late in the first quarter, after taking a 10-7 lead, Blake Sims threw an interception that spoiled a drive that began at the Western Carolina 40-yard line.

Then, while leading 17-7 early in the second quarter, Alabama running back Derrick Henry fumbled away the ball inside its own 20, and Western Carolina found the end zone on the next play, putting the score at 17-14.

For nearly 25 minutes of game clock on Saturday, Western Carolina hung around with the dynastic Crimson Tide.

The mistakes that Alabama made against Western Carolina will be magnified to their very extremes against Auburn, and that kind of start simply won't cut it against your archrival.

What's worse is that the Tigers feast off other teams' mistakes. Against Kansas State, a game Auburn won by just six points on the road, the Wildcats had three turnovers. Auburn scored—you guessed it—six points off those turnovers.

The only time it didn't score off a K-State mistake was an interception in its own end zone that kept six points off the board.

In Auburn's 35-31 win over then-No. 4 Ole Miss, the Tigers recovered a fumble with their backs to the wall at their own 6-yard line. Then on their very next stand, and backed up again inside the red zone, was the now infamous Laquon Treadwell fumble at the goal line that Auburn fell on.

The Tide's offense is super-powered this year, averaging 35 points per game behind Sims, who's thrown for 20 touchdowns and just four picks. That's good enough to mask mistakes against teams like Western Carolina.

But scoring 35 points hasn't come easy against the top dogs of the SEC for the Tide. Against Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU this year, Alabama averages just 22.6 points per game and hasn't scored more than 25.

Expect a similar scoring output from Auburn, a team that's given up just 25 points per game heading into this week.

The Tigers have three losses and are basically out of the playoff hunt, but they're still dangerous. Plus, all the semantics of rankings and history go out the window in the Iron Bowl—that game is about pride, and whoever plays smarter next week will win that game.

For Alabama, that means a slow, mistake-filled start like it had against Western Carolina could prove to be the death of its playoff hopes as well.

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Tennessee Fakes FG for Touchdown, Fan Falls over Wall in Celebration

The Tennessee Volunteers pulled off a fake field goal to perfection in the second quarter against Missouri, resulting in their first touchdown of the day. 

The score from tight end Alex Ellis had fans in Neyland Stadium rocking, especially one fan, who was so excited that he fell over the wall to congratulate him. 

[Vine]

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Why Ole Miss Loss Could Ruin Mississippi State's Playoff Chances

The Ole Miss Rebels got whooped by the unranked Arkansas Razorbacks in Week 13. With the Egg Bowl looming, this loss could have a direct impact on Mississippi State's standing with the College Football Playoff Committee's top four decision.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the impact this game has on Mississippi State's playoff hopes. 

Will Mississippi State make the CFP?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Maryland Coach Randy Edsall Throws Headset in Celebration After Win vs. Michigan

With the University of Maryland trailing 16-9 to Michigan at the start of the fourth quarter, the Terrapins scored two late touchdowns to cap off a thrilling 23-16 win in The Big House.

Maryland coach Randy Edsall was so thrilled that he chucked his headset into the air in celebration.

Good on you, Randy—you deserved it. 

[USA Today's FTW]

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From CFP Contender to Meltdown: What Happened to Notre Dame?

After their 31-28 loss to the Louisville Cardinals on Saturday, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have now dropped three games in a row as their late-season meltdown continues. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss the demise of the Fighting Irish.

What's behind Notre Dame's sudden decline?

Watch the video and let us know!  


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Virginia's Canaan Severin Reels in Filthy 1-Handed Touchdown Catch vs. Miami

The University of Virginia got on the board against the Miami Hurricanes thanks to this incredible 23-yard touchdown catch from Canaan Severin. 

[Vine]

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Ole Miss vs. Arkansas: How Rebels' Loss Reshapes Playoff Picture

The Arkansas Razorbacks ended the Ole Miss Rebels' fledging quest for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff on Saturday, cruising to a 30-0 home win over their SEC rivals.   

The loss drops the Rebels to 8-3 on the season (4-3 SEC) while Arkansas improves to 6-5 overall (2-5 SEC). It was a convincing win for coach Bret Bielema's improving squad. The defense absolutely shut down Ole Miss' rushing attack, holding them to just 1.9 yards per carry as a team. They also forced a staggering six turnovers.

The Razorbacks' offense did enough to get by on the defense's heroics, with running backs Josh Williams and Alex Collins combining for 160 yards and a touchdown on 43 carries.

The upset alert was on at halftime, per SportsCenter

The Razorbacks killed off any chance of a Rebels comeback when Rohan Gaines picked off Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace in the third quarter and returned the ball 100 yards for a touchdown that made the score 27-0.

The Rebels entered Saturday's contest ranked eighth in the official College Football Playoff rankings, and yet had only a puncher's chance of making the playoffs.

Ole Miss once looked to be front-runners for the playoffs, but a 35-31 loss to Auburn on Nov. 1 was a huge blow to their chances.

"It was a couple day of gut-wrenching feelings around here,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said of the disappointing loss, via The Associated Press (h/t Washington Post). “So, the combination of all that certainly hurt, but if you don’t have the ability to move on past a big win or difficult loss, you won’t be very good for the duration."

According to FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, Ole Miss had just a 20.3 percent chance of sneaking into the CFP top four by the end of the season. Silver also gave his take on Ole Miss' narrow path to the postseason.

"Ole Miss is a longshot to make the playoff—it will have to beat Mississippi State and perhaps hope that Alabama loses also so that it can get into the SEC Championship—but it’s at the top of the pecking order as far as two-loss teams go," Silver wrote.

That scenario is no longer on the table after Saturday.

Considering the talented teams in front of them—Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor being the immediate impediments to a playoff spot—those slim hopes might have seemed like a non-factor to some. A two-loss SEC team is at least worthy of consideration, but three losses ends the conversation.

The disappointing Rebels loss could have an indirect effect on the playoff chances of Mississippi State, who dropped to fourth in the CFP rankings after their loss to Alabama. The SEC's carousel of upsets and losses muddles the playoff picture, and some, like NFL Network's Albert Breer, question the true depth of the conference:

A win for the Bulldogs in the Egg Bowl on Nov. 29 is necessary for them to stay in the playoff hunt, but if they turn in a sloppy performance against an exposed Rebels squad, the playoff committee could look at that as a sign the Bulldogs ran out of steam at the end of the season.

With TCU and Baylor hot on their heels and with little risk of dropping another game without a Big 12 championship contest to play, the Bulldogs can't have their schedule looking too soft.

They already rolled over weaker teams like South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin to score wins; Ole Miss looking like an also-ran rather than a legitimate top 10 or top 15 squad could hurt them in the exercise in hair splitting that will be deciding the final playoff spots.

Alabama's only loss came against the Rebels. Should the Crimson Tide botch the Iron Bowl against rival Auburn on Nov. 29, the SEC would be a nearly incomprehensible mishmash. That would be good news for the Big 12 hopefuls, as well as the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have scored impressive wins against Michigan State and Minnesota in the past few weeks and clinched a berth in the Big Ten title game.

It's a disappointing end to the season for the Rebels. Wallace wasn't able to put enough solid performances together to keep this team in the running and will likely shoulder much of the blame for what's transpired over the past few weeks.

The Razorbacks, who at one point appeared to specialize in frustrating losses to slightly-more-talented opponents, now have a couple of strong wins to build upon heading into next season.

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Colorado vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

In what could be the final home game in his University of Oregon career, Marcus Mariota did not disappoint. The signal-caller out of Honolulu accumulated nearly 400 yards of total offense in the 44-10 rout of the University of Colorado Buffaloes...

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Colorado vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

In what could be the final home game in his University of Oregon career, Marcus Mariota did not disappoint. The signal-caller out of Honolulu accumulated nearly 400 yards of total offense in the 44-10 rout of the University of Colorado Buffaloes. 

Simply put, Mariota was fantastic. With today's totals, Mariota has thrown for over 9,000 yards and has rushed for over 2,000 yards in his career. Only four other players have ever accomplished the feat. Against the Buffaloes, he threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 73 yards and a score. 

Colorado provided a valiant effort. In the second half, the team did play Oregon relatively even. However, there was just too great of a talent disparity between the two teams. 

A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. Additional analysis on position units will be provided below, as will game grades for both the first half and the game in its totality.

 

Oregon Ducks Game Analysis

Passing Offense

With the ground game firing on all cylinders, it made life very easy for Mariota. Colorado began stacking the box in order to slow down both Mariota and Royce Freeman when running the football. 

As a result, Oregon attacked the perimeter with quick throws and crossing routes over the middle of the field. It also exploited Colorado's defense with play-action passes. Both of Charles Nelson's touchdowns came off play action. Mariota finished the day 24-of-32 for 323 yards and three touchdowns.

 

Pass Defense

The secondary did a fantastic job of shutting down one of the better receivers in the conference in Nelson Spruce. Oregon held Spruce to only two grabs for 16 yards. 

Due to the fact that Oregon didn't respect Colorado's ability to stretch the field vertically, its corners pressed at the line of scrimmage. The combination of quickness and physicality made life tough for the Colorado pass-catchers. 

The Colorado quarterbacking duo of Sefo Liufau and Jordan Gehrke combined for only 105 yards passing on the afternoon.

 

Rushing Offense

Oregon's offensive line did a tremendous job of getting to the second level and blocking in space. Reserve center Doug Brenner also did a very admirable job filling in for Hroniss Grasu. He was particularly adept at pinning down against Colorado's defensive linemen. 

Freeman was spectacular. The freshman back ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns on only 17 carries. He became the first Oregon freshman to run for 1,000 yards in a season. As a whole, Oregon rushed for 265 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries.

 

Run Defense

Early in the game, Colorado was getting some success on throws underneath to its running backs. Phillip Lindsay, in particular, was able to accrue some good yardage. 

However, as a whole, the linebacker corps did a fantastic job of supporting in the run game. Joe Walker was particularly adept at crashing down in order to close up any lanes for the Colorado running backs. 

Outside of a 36-yard rumble by Christian Powell, the unit was very sound. The Buffaloes finished the day rushing for 121 yards on 30 carries. 

 

Special Teams

Colorado surprised Oregon on the first play of the game with an onside kick. The coverage unit failed to scoop up the ball, and it was eventually knocked around on the ground until Spruce picked it up for the Buffaloes. 

After the first touchdown, Oregon failed on a two-point conversion attempt when a receiver slipped and fell in hopes of catching the Taylor Alie pass. 

However, Matt Wogan connected on his only field-goal opportunity. The coverage on punts and kickoffs was also strong. Had it not been for a questionable Dior Mathis holding penalty, former basketball star Johnathan Loyd would've returned a punt for a touchdown. 

 

Coaching

It was not a difficult game to call for Mark Helfrich and his staff. Truthfully, his talent took over in all phases of the game. There's only so much criticism to offer up when a team wins by 34 points. 

If I had to nitpick, the defense didn't blitz nearly as much as it could have. Perhaps against better competition, this will be the case. There were times in which both Colorado quarterbacks had considerable time to sit in the pocket and throw the ball. 

Penalties were also an issue. Oregon committed multiple 15-yard, self-inflicted wounds on the afternoon. Both Colorado scoring drives were aided by these errors. The area of discipline is something that should be enforced in practice. Although Oregon got away with it today, it likely will be punished for something similar against a better team in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

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Western Carolina vs. Alabama: Game Grades and Analysis for the Crimson Tide

Pardon the Alabama Crimson Tide players if their minds were wandering a bit toward next week's Iron Bowl showdown and getting a measure of payback against rival Auburn. 

They pretty much sleepwalked through much of the first half against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Western Carolina and still led by 24 at the half on their way to a 48-14 win.

By the second half, they were able to put things on cruise control.

Despite the comfortable win, there were several mental lapses that shouldn't happen this time of year that will give head coach Nick Saban various teaching points heading into a game week that needs no extra motivation.

'Bama proved it was still 'Bama once it woke up, though it's hard to be happy with the performance.

Perhaps the most troublesome thing for the Tide were injuries to receivers Amari Cooper and ArDarius Stewart, left tackle Cameron Robinson, defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson and running back Jalston Fowler. 

Saban said he didn't think the injuries were serious at first blush.

Regardless of the early difficulty, Bama set another SEC record Saturday; this is the Tide's seventh consecutive 10-win season.

Let's take a look at the game grades.

Pass Offense

Blake Sims and Jake Coker each played a half, and they did fine. Neither made any huge plays, and there were a couple of drops or missed opportunities deep that really could have beefed up the statistics.

While the "splash plays" you like to see weren't there in the passing game, star receiver Amari Cooper barely played after banging up his knee. With the backups going the entire second half, there were some nice flashes shown from freshman Robert Foster and company.

Sims did throw his first interception in 158 attempts, but it took two receivers running into one another for it to happen. That was pretty much the story of the day for the Tide. Their numbers looked nice (337 yards), but there were some frustrating mistakes along the way.

 

Run Offense

Derrick Henry was an absolute monster, sprinting past everybody on a 23-yard touchdown run and catching a pass for another score. And Tyren Jones looked like a future star spelling Henry.

But Henry's costly fumble inside UA's 15-yard line that was immediately turned into a Western Carolina touchdown mars this grade and keeps it from being a great one. Even without T.J. Yeldon who sat because of an injury, 'Bama was strong running the football and looked good doing it throughout the flow of the game.

When the offense was sputtering, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin leaned on the run. Henry finished with 92 yards on 12 carries, and Jones wound up with 75 yards on 11 carries.

 

Pass Defense

When WCU got yards, it got it through the air as dual-threat quarterback Troy Mitchell utilized star receivers Spearman Robinson and Karnorris Benson to get some big yards downfield.

Robinson especially gave 'Bama problems, scoring two touchdowns, though Benson was the workhorse.

Right after Henry's fumble, Robinson used his big body to fight through cornerback Eddie Jackson to grab a touchdown pass. A couple of pass-interference calls on the Tide on deep balls bailed the Catamounts out on a pair of drives, too.

Alabama didn't play particularly poorly in pass defense, but it just didn't have its normal quality game. Considering the Tide were going against a lesser opponent, this was a mediocre performance.

 

Run Defense

Even without A'Shawn Robinson for most of the game, the Tide smothered WCU's rushing attack to the point where the Catamounts abandoned it quickly.

They finished with minus-eight rushing yards as 'Bama dominated all day. There was simply no daylight for Western Carolina, so when you factor in that the Cats could do absolutely nothing on the ground, the 221 yards allowed through the air aren't all that bad.

Bama will face a much stiffer test next week with Auburn's rushing attack, but Saturday night was easy.

 

Special Teams

Alabama trotted out a special teams kicker, and Gunnar Raborn nailed his first two field-goal attempts, which was good to see as the Tide rested a nicked-up Adam Griffith.

Though UA didn't break anything in the return game, the Tide did have some nice runs, and they were totally ready for a fake field-goal attempt by WCU that Landon Collins tracked down at the line and delivered a crushing blow to the kicker.

This grade would have been an "A," but Raborn missed a 31-yard field goal that was inconsequential.

 

Coaching

Saban faulted himself at halftime for not having the Tide ready to play. But after a lengthy stay in the locker room at halftime, UA came out and took care of business in the second half.

They responded well to coaching, and though they still made plenty of miscues, it was encouraging for 'Bama fans to see their team take care of business and wind up dominating Western Carolina like it was expected to do.

Still, for a team as good as Bama to come out flat, finish with two turnovers and not force a Football Championship Subdivision opponent into any is a subpar day. Bama will have to play much better next week.

 

Brad Shepard covers SEC football for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Melvin Gordon Must Carry Wisconsin to a Big Ten Title to Win Heisman

One week ago, Melvin Gordon vaulted into college football’s national spotlight with a 408-yard rushing effort against Nebraska that set the FBS single-game rushing record (for a week, as it turned out, thanks to Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine’s 427-yard day against Kansas on Saturday).

Gordon made his way to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy race with that record-setting performance, and there’s no question that he’s one of college football’s most outstanding players. ESPN’s Heisman Watch has him as a very close second to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the running for the award.

To get over the top, Gordon will have to keep posting huge numbers and helping his team win to impress voters.

Following Saturday’s 26-24 win at Iowa, he is on track to do just that. Coming off his huge week against Nebraska, the Hawkeyes’ defense was clearly geared to stop Gordon. As a result, he had just 39 rushing yards in the first half.

After halftime, however, he carried the Badgers’ offense. With under 10 minutes to play, Wisconsin held a 19-17 lead and faced a 3rd-and-13 at its own 32. Gordon broke off a 35-yard gain on a screen pass to pick up the first down, then completed the drive with a 23-yard touchdown run. The Gazette's Mike Hlas believes Gordon's performance speaks volumes about his desire to win the Heisman: 

Gordon finished the day with 200 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries and now has 2,109 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns this season, along with a pair of touchdowns through the air.

Wisconsin's Twitter account noted just how impressive Gordon's rushing totals have been this season:

Saturday marked his fifth 200-yard game of the season and his third consecutive game reaching that mark.

Gordon has clinched his ticket to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony on Dec. 13. But to get on stage and hoist the trophy, he’ll need to do more. Team success plays a big part in the Heisman voting, and Gordon will have to lead his team to a Big Ten Championship if he wants to move ahead of Mariota.

Saturday’s win put the Badgers in prime position for the Big Ten West Division title, and Minnesota will come to town for the division title game next Saturday.

"It feels good because everything is on the line next week," Gordon said, via The Associated Press (h/t Fox Sports). "Minnesota is going to give us their all and we're going to give them ours. We have to."

Beat the Gophers at Camp Randall Stadium, and Wisconsin will head to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game against the Ohio State Buckeyes, who clinched the Big Ten East Saturday afternoon.

That would be a key spotlight for Gordon. Prime time, with the nation watching.

It is the perfect opportunity to impress Heisman Trophy voters, particularly since final ballots are due two days later. That day, Mariota will also be competing in the Pac-12 title game, meaning Gordon must give them something to think about.

It’s not necessarily fair, but would voters give Gordon the Heisman if he can’t push his team to a league championship?

If he rolls up 225 yards and carries Wisconsin to a Big Ten title, then Gordon should find himself in possession of the stiff-arm trophy. If the last three weeks have shown us anything, it’s that he’s perfectly capable of doing just that and beating Mariota for college football’s highest individual honor.

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Ole Miss vs. Arkansas: Game Grades, Analysis for Rebels and Razorbacks

The University of Arkansas Razorbacks dominated from the opening kickoff, shutting out the eighth-ranked University of Mississippi Rebels 30-0 Saturday afternoon.

Arkansas forced six turnovers en route to win No. 6 on the season, which marks the first time the program has qualified for bowl season since 2011.

Pass Offense: Bo Wallace located soft spots in the Razorbacks' zone, but his red zone mistakes were immensely costly. He floated a pair of passes that were intercepted at the goal line, finishing with a 16-of-31, 235-yard line.

Run Offense: Jaylen Walton finally broke off a long run during the second half, but Ole Miss tallied just two carries of 10-plus yards. Wallace was a complete non-factor throughout a handful of zone-read calls.

Pass Defense: The Rebels didn't give up many completions but were gashed when they did, allowing an even 19 yards per reception. They most often lost the intended target following play action.

Run Defense: While Ole Miss managed to shut down the inside run, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams exploited the Rebels on the outside. Nevertheless, the Landsharks were stout near the end zone and even forced a field goal after a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

Special Teams: Gary Wunderlich and Will Gleeson both averaged 42 yards per punt. Markell Pack muffed a punt, but Ole Miss jumped on the loose ball inside its own 10-yard line, avoiding a complete disaster.

Coaching: Hugh Freeze's offense sputtered throughout the night and couldn't establish a rhythm because of six turnovers. The defense adjusted following three consecutive scoring drives and tightened up, but Arkansas continued to sustain drives better than the Rebels could.

 

Pass Offense: Though starting quarterback Brandon Allen exited with a hip injury after starting 5-of-10 for 87 yards and one touchdown, Arkansas didn't need much from his brother, Austin Allen. The younger Allen connected on 3 of 5 passes for 65 yards, committing just one turnover on a mishandled snap.

Run Offense: Collins and Williams combined for 160 yards on the ground, while the latter toppled the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Collins is just 35 yards away from achieving the same mark behind a dominant offensive line.

Pass Defense: The Razorbacks surrendered a few long-gainers but capitalized on bad throws in the red zone. Rohan Gaines turned one floated pass into a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Run Defense: Arkansas didn't just limit Ole Miss' ground game—the Hogs completely shut it down. They've allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards during the last two weeks combined.

Special Teams: Adam McFain pushed a 37-yard field goal wide right before halftime but converted from 22, 31 and 18 yards. Sam Irwin-Hill pinned the Rebels at their own 20-yard line or deeper four times.

Coaching: Bret Bielema is once again building a run-focused program that is immensely difficult to contain. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith's unit hasn't allowed points throughout the last 133 game minutes.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Ole Miss vs. Arkansas: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Arkansas Razorbacks waited 17 games to return to the win column in SEC play, and now they want to stay awhile.   

Bret Bielema's squad throttled No. 8 Ole Miss 30-0 Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in a complete 60-minute drubbing. The Razorbacks notched their second straight shutout against a ranked foe, after blanking LSU 17-0 last week to snap a 17-game SEC skid.

Arkansas (6-5) is also now bowl-eligible with the rest of the SEC West. It's the first time ever that an entire division has pulled off that feat, per the SEC's Chuck Dunlap:

After Arkansas starting quarterback Brandon Allen gave his team a 17-0 lead, freshman Austin Allen finished the game in relief when his brother suffered a back injury early in the second quarter. He didn't have to do much, as the Arkansas defense forced six turnovers.

Many of those came at the expense of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, who returned from a first-half ankle injury to throw two costly interceptions in the end zone. He finished 16-of-31 with 235 yards, but one of his picks was returned 100 yards for a game-clinching score.

Here's a glance at the quarter-by-quarter scoreboard:

The eighth-ranked Rebels knew they weren't facing a typical last-place team in the division, with Arkansas on a high after the streak-ending win over LSU. Wallace commented entering the game on how important offensive possessions would be.

"It's important for us to get points on every possession," he told The Clarion-Ledger's Hugh Kellenberger. "We trust our defense to give us the ball."

Early on, Wallace's offense didn't follow suit—and his trust of the defense didn't pay off.

Ole Miss started with a three-and-out, and Arkansas took over near midfield intent on taking advantage. The Razorbacks went unconventional, straying from their between-the-tackles style to score in three plays on Brandon Allen's 25-yard strike to Keon Hatcher.

The Rebels' disastrous start only got worse two plays later. Wallace fumbled on a quarterback run, and Arkansas' Trey Flowers fell on it to set his team up at the Ole Miss 29.

Looking to blow it open midway through the first quarter, Arkansas lined up for a crazy trick play on 3rd-and-1 with seven players out left and the center all alone—and eligible for a pass. The Hogs barely picked up the first down after Ole Miss covered it well, but Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples commended Bielema's style:

Ole Miss got a big stop inside the 5-yard line to hold Arkansas to a 22-yard field goal, but the offense couldn't get into a rhythm. The Rebels' first three drives yielded just 12 total yards.

All of a sudden, they were dazed by Arkansas' rushing strength again, as the Razorbacks pushed down the field on a nine-play drive ending on Alex Collins' one-yard rushing score.

A 17-0 hole before the end of the first period wasn't exactly the start Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze had talked about, as ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff noted:

Also not to be overlooked was Arkansas' offensive dominance against one of the nation's best defensive units. Sporting News' Matt Hayes compared the Razorbacks to Alabama, who scored all of 10 points offensively against the Rebels:

After the shocking start, injuries hit both backfields at nearly the same time. 

Wallace was injured on his sack-fumble and shortly left the field for treatment before returning, but Brandon Allen wasn't as fortunate, as ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported:

Ole Miss finally found some resolve defensively after being torched in its first few possessions, holding Arkansas scoreless in the second quarter. But it didn't come without some help, as the Razorbacks executed a great two-minute drill only to miss a 37-yard field goal before the half.

The Rebels had avoided a 20-0 hole before the half, but Jake Thompson of The Oxford Eagle noted the origin of Ole Miss' problems:

With Wallace back and operating well, Ole Miss found some success offensively to start the second half. But it never materialized into points. 

The Rebels' first second-half drive ended on a turnover on downs in Arkansas territory. The next one all but clinched the game, as Rohan Gaines intercepted Wallace on a cross-field throw to the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a score. As a result, Arkansas went up 27-0.

For the second time in the game, Wallace was intercepted after floating one across the field into the end zone, and Aschoff couldn't help but notice:

Ole Miss obviously still had a chance down four scores with more than a quarter to go, but Arkansas' defensive dominance shut the door. The Razorbacks forced another turnover on downs when Wallace slung four incomplete passes at the Arkansas 27 to end the third quarter.

The offensive turnaround for Ole Miss was apparent in the third period. But no points from it and a 27-0 deficit on the road meant this one was over after 45 minutes. It also marked an incredible streak for Arkansas' defense, per Dudley E. Dawson of Scout.com:

If things weren't over then, it ended when DeVante Kincade fumbled and Arkansas returned it to the goal line with 13:35 to go.

Ole Miss held the Razorbacks to a field goal, but as Arkansas News Bureau's Robbie Neiswanger noted, there wasn't much drama left for the Rebels:

The Razorbacks' defensive dominance isn't new, according to Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee:

Arkansas is now bowl-eligible with the win, something that seemed like an impossibility just three weeks ago. And the best days should be ahead for the Razorbacks, as USA Today's Paul Myerberg analyzed:

A last-place finish in the SEC West for Arkansas is still possible, but after this late-season dominance, closing out with a win over Missouri next week would make the hype around the program unreal entering its bowl game and the 2015 season. 

On the other side, the Rebels are crushed, after their third defeat of the season undoubtedly ends what was already an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. There's still the Egg Bowl against No. 4 Mississippi State next week, but pride is about all that's left for a team that was vying all season for the championship.

One thing is certain: The SEC West is downright scary.

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UCLA Fan Rocks Crazy Mohawk for Game vs. USC

This man is definitely ready for some football.

Before the UCLA Bruins took on the USC Trojans, one UCLA fan was spotted with this impressive mohawk, complete with the team's logo painted into his hair.

That's some serious dedication.

[Twitter]

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Maryland vs. Michigan: Game Grades, Analysis for the Wolverines

Well, the chances of a bowl game are in serious jeopardy now that Michigan has to beat Ohio State in order to qualify. 

It didn't have to be that way. All the Wolverines had to do was beat Maryland. But that didn't happen. Instead, the Terps slid away with a 23-16 victory—their first at The Big House and against Michigan—thanks to Wes Brown's one-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. 

C.J. Brown, Maryland's quarterback, also contributed with an eight-yard rush earlier in the fourth. 

Michigan (5-6, 3-4 B1G) couldn't get the job done on senior day, which was the final go for players such as Jake Ryan, Devin Gardner, Brennen Beyer, Raymon Taylor and kicker Matt Wile, who made a season-high three field goals. 

Grades are based on factors such as statistics, opportunity, frequency, execution and prior performances. Feel free to discuss them in the comments section. 

 

Pass Offense

Gardner threw for 106 yards, three fewer than he did during the 10-9 win over Northwestern. He completed 13 of 24 attempts and also threw an interception. Needless to say, he didn't produce desired results on senior day. 

The pass offense gets a D-. 

 

Pass Defense

The Wolverines defense didn't allow any Terps receivers to reach the end zone and it held C.J. Brown to a modest 165 yards. Jourdan Lewis stood out as the unit's star of the night. He saved a touchdown with a sideline tackle in the second half. 

 

Run Offense

Believe it or not, the Wolverines rushed for 292 yards. Joe Kerridge rumbled for 52 after a fake-punt attempt in the first half. Gardner scored a 15-yard rushing touchdown in the second half. Drake Johnson had 14 carries for 94 yards. 

But other than Gardner, no one could put six on the board. The run offense gets a C- for lack of meaningful production. 

 

Run Defense

The Wolverines gave up both touchdowns on the ground, so that'll knock down the grade a notch or two. Four Terps combined for 147 yards, or about 45 more than Greg Mattison's defense typically surrenders on any given Saturday. 

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown rushed for 87 yards, a total aided by a 30-yard burst in the first half. 

For that, the rush D gets a C-.

 

Special Teams

Michigan made three of its four field goals, so Matt Wile deserves mention for keeping his team in the hunt. Without those nine points, well, it would have been a 23-7 loss.

Dennis Norfleet, who's been due for three years, almost had a touchdown, but it was called back due to an illegal block by Michigan. 

The Wolverines get another D. The entire year has been a D, as in "D"-isappointment. 

 

Coaching

This was the one Brady Hoke had to win. He's not going to beat Ohio State, which stands in the way of a bowl game. Hoke gets a D. 

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier just doesn't seem to know what to do with his offense. Another lackluster showing by Gardner and his receivers; Devin Funchess had five catches for 30 yards but was a no-show in the second half. 

Nussmeier gets a D. 

Mattison's defense has been the only positive of Team 135's dreadful season. He gets a C-. His defense gave up the touchdowns. Can't change that. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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Arkansas Sends Message to SEC with Back-to-Back Shutout Wins

Do you hear that?

That's not the sound of Arkansas walking through the door. That's the sound of a door being kicked down, chipped and turned into mulch.

After going without SEC wins for more than two calendar years, Arkansas has announced its presence with authority in November. The Razorbacks beat LSU 17-0 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated last week and followed it up with a 30-0 win over No. 8 Ole Miss on Saturday in Fayetteville.

Much like last week, this week's stomping wasn't as close as the score indicated.

The Hogs defense throttled the high-octone Rebels offense to the tune of 316 yards, 63 rushing yards and just 4.45 yards per play. Ole Miss, a team that hasn't been able to run between the tackles all season long, was absolutely shut down by an Arkansas front seven that has become one of the most underrated units in the entire conference.

“It’s big time for us defensive players," defensive end Trey Flowers said in quotes emailed by Arkansas. "To put up those type of numbers and stop some pretty good teams from getting in the end zone, it's big time.

As Bo Mattingly of Sports Talk with Bo in Arkansas notes, first-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith deserves a ton of credit for this turnaround:

It was a message to the SEC West, the SEC and the nation that these Hogs have found their groove and will not be a pushover anymore.

This was coming all season long. 

From the moment the Razorbacks went into halftime in their season opener vs. Auburn tied, it was clear that this wasn't the same team that existed under former head coach John L. Smith in 2012 and last season—Bret Bielema's first in Fayetteville.

They were confident.

They were prepared.

They were on the brink of walking through the door during the first two months of the season, and instead they decided to kick it down the last two weeks.

It took longer than Bielema imagined, but Arkansas evolved this year from a pushover to a potential power. Even when the Hogs lost this year, they made the opponent work. They're old-school in every sense of the term and have now learned a valuable lesson during the month of November: how to win.

Moving forward, what does it mean? It means that this team is going to be something to be reckoned with in 2015.

Arkansas' defense is loaded with young talent. Only one defender—Flowers—is a senior on the two-deep up front. The Razorbacks will also return four of five starters on the biggest offensive line in football (college or the NFL), quarterback Brandon Allen and talented running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.

This year's Hogs have already made a tremendous impact on the SEC West race, locking the door on Ole Miss' chances of representing the division in the SEC Championship Game for the first time ever. That will continue next season, and if the dominoes fall in the Hogs' favor, don't be surprised if they're in the SEC West title discussion in mid-November just like Ole Miss was this year.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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