NCAA Football

Arizona State vs. Arizona: Game Grades, Analysis for Sun Devils and Wildcats

The last time Arizona and Arizona State met for the Territorial Cup while both being ranked in the Top 25, Ronald Reagan wasn't even midway through his second term and Dionne Warwick, Elton John and Gladys Knight combined to bring us the top song of the year with "That's What Friends Are For."

Fast forward to 2014, and the stakes have climbed even higher.  Both Arizona and Arizona State entered the game tied with UCLA for the top spot in the Pac-12's South Division, with UCLA holding the tiebreaker.  With Stanford's win over the Bruins, the annual grudge match for the oldest rivalry trophy morphed into the de facto Pac-12 South title game.

Right from the opening kickoff, this game was shaping up to be a classic.  It didn't disappoint, as both teams went blow for blow for most of the game before the Wildcats eventually squeezed out a victory in the fourth quarter.

Let's dive right in as we pick apart both the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils in our game grades.

 

Box score via NCAA.com.

 

Arizona State Pass Offense

It's difficult to know exactly what to make of the passing game from Arizona State.  Taylor Kelly, who has been a fairly reliable starter for ASU, was benched in favor of Mike Bercovici in the second half.

Kelly really wasn't that bad.  He finished his performance 13-of-22 for 144 yards and two touchdowns.  Bercovici threw the exact same number of passes and completed 14 of them.  But he also threw one (very costly) interception, and finished with 123 yards and two touchdowns.

So the question now becomes why head coach Todd Graham opted for Bercovici over Kelly in the second half.  Don't worry.  We'll get into that in a little bit.

One of the things lacking from the ASU passing game this afternoon was the big play.  Of the combined 27 completions from ASU quarterbacks, only one went for 25 or more yards (a 50-yarder to Jaelen Strong).  

Strong, who injured his shoulder on his long reception, only hauled in four receptions on the day but led the team with 80 yards and a pretty spectacular one-handed touchdown snag.

All in all, it wasn't a bad day for the Sun Devils passing game.  It certainly wasn't lights-out amazing, but it wasn't bad by any stretch.  But it does leave us feeling just a little uneasy about the Sun Devils in their to-be-determined bowl game.

 

Arizona State Run Offense

Like the passing game, the run game was a bit of a mixed bag.  It can really be boiled down to two halves in which the Sun Devils were either pretty solid or pretty horrible.

Prior to halftime, ASU put up 99 rushing yards on the Wildcats on 29 attempts.  A decent 3.4 yards per rush is a good place to start, and we were thinking that if ASU could continue to find avenues to run the ball while perhaps mixing in a few big plays, the Sun Devils might just be able to pull off the win.

After halftime, however, Arizona stepped up its pressure, which not only kept the passing game off-balance but also completely disrupted the run game from ASU.  Minus the first-half numbers, Arizona State gained just 14 rushing yards on 14 carries.  A yard per rush wasn't exactly what we had in mind when we were thinking ASU had a chance to come out on top after a halftime score knotted at 21.

Demario Richard had, by far, the best day for ASU on the ground, averaging 5.2 yards per carry on his 13 attempts.  Most of those, however, came in the first half.

While running the football won't provide quick dividends for a team playing from behind in the second half, Arizona State's complete inability to challenge Arizona on the ground late in the game gave the Wildcats all the confidence they needed to defend the passing game when it mattered most.

 

Arizona State Pass Defense

The two halves were pretty even for ASU's pass defense.  The Wildcats had nearly identical passing statistics from each half, and the Sun Devils were back to their usual tricks of dialing up pressure early on and often on Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon.

The other side of the blitzing coin is giving up big plays, though.  And ASU gave up some whoppers.

Arizona had five receivers with long receptions of 10 yards or more, and the pass and run defense combined to give up two touchdowns of at least 69 yards.

 

Arizona State Run Defense

That long run we're talking about was a 79-yard scamper from Nick Wilson.  Despite bottling up the Wildcats for just 13 rushing yards on 16 first-half carries, Wilson finished with 178 yards and three touchdowns on 24 attempts.

No other Wildcat had positive rushing yards.

It's not often we'll hand out a midterm A only to watch it plummet much beyond a B or B+, but the Sun Devils' complete inability to slow Wilson down in the second half is probably the biggest reason for ASU's defeat.

For that reason, we're dropping the run defense all the way down to a C- on the day.

 

Arizona State Special Teams

It's hard to hand out a nice grade to a special teams unit that missed its only field-goal attempt, but there were some nice extras thrown in by the special teams that provided the Sun Devils with enough opportunities this afternoon.

First, of ASU's six punts (five from Matt Haack and a quick kick from Taylor Kelly), four were downed inside the 20 (one was blocked).  Arizona was able to overcome poor starting field position almost all day, but we have to give credit to the ASU special teams for putting Arizona in such an uncomfortable position—even if the ASU defense didn't do much about it.

Second, we can't forget about long snapper Mitchell Fraboni, who hustled down the field to pick up a muffed punt return by Arizona.  Everyone loves the big boys making plays, and long snappers are usually only mentioned when they screw up, so we're handing out some kudos here.

 

Arizona State Coaching

Pulling Kelly in favor of Bercovici was a bold move by Todd Graham.  Unfortunately, it didn't pan out.  

Bercovici ended up with nearly identical numbers but had a very costly snap that set up the Wildcats inside the ASU 20.  Arizona capitalized and pushed its lead to two scores.

Had Kelly stayed in, would that have happened?  Maybe, maybe not.  But that extra spark Graham was looking for with Bercovici never really materialized.  You might even be able to argue that the drive or two it took for Bercovici to settle into a rhythm may have cost ASU a potential score or two.

All conjecture, sure.  But if there's one thing college football fans love to do, it's play "what if" after a big loss—especially to a rival.

Arizona State played a solid game, for the most part, and Graham had his team prepared to deal with everything Arizona threw its way early on.  ASU responded to Arizona's first three touchdowns with touchdowns of its own, and the game never really got away from the Sun Devils.  That's a credit to both the players and the coaches.

Still, we're left wondering about the quarterback situation.

 

Arizona Pass Offense

When you have a game in which a running back takes things over, you don't often need a solid game passing the ball.  But in close rivalries, every single yard can be important, and that was certainly the case against Arizona State.

Anu Solomon was about as efficient as they come, finishing 15-of-21 for 208 yards and two touchdowns.  His numbers were also nearly identical in each half, giving the coaching staff ample time to focus their halftime adjustments on the running game and defensive side of the football.

While 208 yards isn't going to get anyone too excited, it's not often we see quarterbacks maintain such a consistent performance for 60 whole minutes.  Solomon was good when he needed to be and even managed to find room for some plays that created momentum.

Samajie Grant was the earlier recipient of one such big play, as Solomon found him on the slant early on and Grant proceeded to weave his way through the ASU defense en route to a 69-yard touchdown reception.  

Solomon also found David Richards later on for a critical 31-yard pickup that extended a drive, but perhaps most importantly, Solomon didn't really do anything to seriously jeopardize the Wildcats' chances.

While sacks for big losses are certainly a concern, we've see far too many quarterbacks panic under pressure and try to force plays when they shouldn't.  Solomon, clearly well-coached, seemed content to suffer through a big sack and come back on the next play or series and regroup.

Punting isn't always the end of the world—a lesson far too many quarterbacks learn far too late in their collegiate careers.  Solomon, a freshman, has already aced that part of his education.

 

Arizona Run Offense

As mentioned earlier, this was truly the tale of two halves and likely where the game was won for Arizona.  After a first half that produced just 13 net yards on 16 carries, it looked as if the Sun Devils only needed to bottle up Solomon in the second half to emerge with a victory.

Nick Wilson had other plans.

The only Wildcat with positive ground yardage on the day, Wilson rattled off 178 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.  He was helped out by some solid play by the Arizona offensive line, which kept the ASU rush contained long enough to get Wilson to the second level.

And when you get to ASU's second level against its heavy blitz, big yardage can be your reward.

 

Arizona Pass Defense

Arizona's secondary was simply good enough today.  Aside from a late interception by Jourdon Grandon, there wasn't a lot to get overly excited about.  The secondary gave up 267 yards and four touchdowns—something that will certainly need to be cleaned up before facing Oregon next week in the Pac-12 Championship.

Then again, Arizona has done well against the Ducks, so maybe defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel is on to something.

One thing of concern is the defense's penchant for committing bad penalties on 3rd-and-long.  Arizona State was the beneficiary of at least three first downs after would-be punt-causing incompletions or runs on third down thanks to pass interference, defensive holding or hands to the face.

These mental mistakes must be addressed before Arizona can truly be considered one of the nation's elite teams.

 

Arizona Run Defense

After giving up 99 yards in the first half, Arizona went into the locker room looking for a way to bottle up ASU's Demario Richard and D.J. Foster.  The Wildcats came out in the second half with a plan that worked to perfection.

Step one: Get ASU down by more than one score and force the Sun Devils into passing the ball more than they want to.  Mission accomplished.

Step two: Key some defensive speedsters on the perimeter runs and allow the D-line and linebackers to take care of business up the middle.  Check.

Step three: Let Scooby do what Scooby does.  

Scooby Wright is one of the best—and most underrated—defensive players in the nation.  Perhaps another standout performance—this time on national network television over a holiday weekend—is just what he needed to finally earn that missing respect.  

Either way, Wright needed to feature big in the second half.  He did.

All of that amounts to a paltry 14 yards of rushing offense for the Sun Devils after halftime—and we all know if you can't run the ball, you have to throw the ball.  Guess what: The Arizona secondary and pass-rushers knew that, too.

 

Arizona Special Teams

Yes, there was a pretty ugly muffed punt that resulted in a turnover.  Yes, ASU was allowed to create a little momentum with that big special teams play.  But what better way to erase the negatives created by a muffed punt than by blocking a punt?

Cayleb Jones came through the line barely being blocked in the second quarter to set up a four-play, 30-yard Arizona drive that ended in a touchdown.  That's the kind of stuff special teams live for, and Jones came through in a big way for his team.

With a perfect kicking game that went six-for-six on extra points and averaged better than 46 yards on seven punts, we're fine with handing out a solidly above-average B. 

 

Arizona Coaching

Criticize Rich Rodriguez?  What are we, Michigan fans?

Okay, here's a disclaimer.  This is a bit of a nitpick, but we're going to mention it anyway.  We absolutely hated the decision to go with three straight runs for a net of five yards on Arizona's last drive of consequence.

Yes, the Wildcats were protecting a lead, but ASU had all three timeouts remaining, and the lead was one measly touchdown.  We somehow expected Rich Rod to be a little more like, well, Rich Rod.  

We wanted to see Arizona do something to put the game away right then and there—not run the ball three times for five yards in hopes that the Sun Devils wouldn't notice the running clock.

Yes, it worked out in the end, but that was thanks to the defense that forced a turnover on downs.  We just really wanted to see more from Rodriguez's highly touted, high-octane offense.

Oh well.  A win is a win, a Territorial Cup is a Territorial Cup (Rodriguez's first), and a South Division title is a South Division title.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter.

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Arizona State vs. Arizona: Game Grades, Analysis for Sun Devils and Wildcats

The last time Arizona and Arizona State met for the Territorial Cup while both being ranked in the Top 25, Ronald Reagan wasn't even midway through his second term and Dionne Warwick, ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Arizona Gets 2nd Chance to Ruin Oregon's Playoff Hopes with Pac-12 South Win

It's not fair to call the Oregon Ducks a Cinderella team. They're clearly one of the best squads in the nation, have the nation's Heisman front-runner in Marcus Mariota and are squarely in the hunt for the College Football Playoff. 

Yet recently, anytime the Ducks square off against the Arizona Wildcats, that clock strikes midnight, and that national championship trophy starts to look more like a pumpkin from Eugene. 

Yes, Arizona's rivalry win over Arizona State on Friday set the stage for a rematch of that thrilling Week 6 matchup that saw the Wildcats upset the then-No. 2 Ducks 31-24. Since that fateful Thursday night, the Ducks have been battling back to get into playoff contention. 

But to make their strongest case to the committee, they have to win the Pac-12. That means, next week, the Ducks have to atone for their sins. ESPN Stats & Info provided a stat comparison for Arizona and Oregon, noting Oregon's only loss came against Arizona:

However, Arizona will certainly have other plans. 

There's no secret to how Arizona likes to toy around with Oregon. In fact, the Wildcats don't toy around at all. 

They run the ball. They run it some more. Then they run it again. 

The Wildcats have beaten the Ducks the last two times they've played—Week 6 of this season and Nov. 23 of last season, when Arizona thumped Oregon 42-16. 

Last year, the Wildcats, behind Ka'Deem Carey's 206 rushing yards, racked up 304 total yards on the ground.

Then in Week 6 of this season, it was again a battle that was won on the ground. In Arizona's seven-point upset, the Wildcats ran for 208 yards compared to Oregon's 144.

What made Arizona so deadly that week, though, was its two-headed monster carrying the ball. Terris Jones-Grigsby led the Wildcats with 115 yards, but he chewed that up over 27 carries.

When the Wildcats needed an explosive play, they turned to Nick Wilson, who racked up 92 yards on just 13 carries, a 7.1 yards per carry average.

Since that game, Wilson has ran for over 150 yards three times, including a monster 218-yard showing at Utah.

Oregon's defense simply isn't up to par with its offense. Some of that is predicated on the fact that when the Ducks take multiple possession leads, teams are forced to pass, and that forces Oregon to use more nickel and dime packages. 

That's part of the reason why the Ducks rank a measly 117th in pass defense, per cfbstats.com, giving up 276.8 yards through the air per game. 

The lousy secondary can be explained away. But part of that trade-off should be a stout rush defense, at least statistically, right? 

Wrong. 

The Ducks rank just 59th in the nation in rush defense, according to cfbstats.com, giving up 158.9 yards per game on the ground. 

So Arizona, a team perfectly built to prey on Oregon's weakness, is now getting another crack at doing so. 

What makes Arizona's simplistic strategy of running the ball so effective is that it stifles the rhythm of the Oregon offense. 

It's tough to keep Marcus Mariota on the sidelines for 10 minutes and then ask him to go into scramble mode. Now he's a Heisman front-runner, so nine times out of 10 he'll do that. But will everybody else around him? 

In both victories against Oregon, the Wildcats dominated the time of possession, holding onto the ball for at least 33 minutes while never letting Oregon hold it for more than 27. 

Six to eight more minutes with the ball in a Pac-12 Championship Game can mean a world of difference. 

You better believe the Wildcats know it, and they're coming for Oregon.

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Arizona Gets 2nd Chance to Ruin Oregon's Playoff Hopes with Pac-12 South Win

It's not fair to call the Oregon Ducks a Cinderella team. They're clearly one of the best squads in the nation, have the nation's Heisman front-runner in Marcus Mariota and are squarely in the hunt for the College Football Playoff...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

UCLA Football: Bruins Must Get Tougher to Ultimately Compete with Pac-12 Elite

PASADENA, Calif. — Stanford spoiled No. 8 UCLA’s hope of a Pac-12 South title and berth in the conference championship game Friday at the Rose Bowl, 31-10.

The thorn in head coach Jim Mora’s side once again came from the Cardinal—and more specifically, their physical brand of football.

“This is the worst [Stanford] has beaten us in the four games we played them [since Mora became head coach in 2012],” he said. “They are just big and physical.”

Stanford dominated on both lines, on defense collapsing UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley’s pocket from virtually the moment he took several snaps, resulting in five sacks.

On offense, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan's sack-free afternoon set the tone. He delivered the ball to the skill-position players on time, which allowed them to pick up yards after the catch.

Putting together perhaps his best individual performance in three years as Stanford’s starting quarterback, Hogan went 16-of-19 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Cardinal to their fourth win over the Bruins in the last three seasons.

The win was also Stanford’s seventh straight in the series, dating back to 2009. That season was the first in which the Cardinal began to establish themselves among the conference’s elite, going on to reach top-tier bowls from 2010 through 2013.

This year’s Stanford team finishes just 7-5, but UCLA linebacker Myles Jack said the Cardinal were much better than their record. More importantly for the Bruins, Jack added that Stanford is a benchmark UCLA is trying to reach.

“Be one of the Oregons and Stanfords, that was kind of our motto,” he said. “We figured this year was the year, but I guess not.”

Jack will be among the returning players in 2015, leading UCLA in its pursuit of reaching the Pac-12’s upper echelon. He should assume a leadership role linebacker partner Eric Kendricks vacates as one of the program’s departing seniors.

Kendricks broke UCLA’s career tackles record of 468, racking up a team-high 11 on the afternoon. Jack was right behind him with 10.

Jack’s ability to swarm to the football and just as importantly bring down the ball-carrier sets the kind of tone the Bruins must follow in the future to be true title contenders. Friday, that was lacking from other spots on the defense.

“We’ve got to do a better job all around, when it comes to rushing, when it comes to tackling, when it comes to everything,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said.

Time of possession is an overrated statistic—except when it’s not. And Friday’s contest was an example of the latter, as noted by Dan Greenspan of The Associated Press:

Complementing Hogan’s proficient passing was a methodical run game, which exploited UCLA’s ineffective tackling to take the air out of the ball.

Stanford had possession for 37 minutes, 49 seconds to UCLA’s 22 minutes, 11 seconds, thanks largely to 202 rushing yards.

“When their running game is a viable threat at all times…they don’t mind running on third down-and-7,” Ulbrich said.

UCLA’s rush defense will look considerably different next season without Kendricks, whom Ulbrich called “the heart and soul” of the program.

And Kendricks isn’t the only notable Bruin who may have gone out winless against Stanford.

Friday would seemingly mark the end of Hundley’s UCLA career. A redshirt junior who finished his undergraduate degree, Hundley was recognized as part of the pregame senior-day ceremony.

With Hundley’s exit, Mora was already faced with beginning a new era in the 2015 campaign. The impending quarterback battle between Hundley’s understudy, Asiantii Woulard, and highly touted prospect Josh Rosen, should dominate offseason headlines in Westwood, California.

But the strides UCLA takes toward becoming a more physical team are perhaps most important for the program's future.

“I thought we closed the gap,” Mora said. “But we still have work to do. We will continue to work hard on getting bigger and faster and stronger and more physical [and] recruiting the type of student-athletes we think can help us win those types of games.”

Such was the case for Oregon, which suffered losses to Stanford in 2012 and 2013 akin to that which UCLA sustained Friday. The Ducks refocused on bulking up last offseason and saw results, blowing out the Cardinal in the rematch earlier this month.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of the UCLA athletic department.

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UCLA Football: Bruins Must Get Tougher to Ultimately Compete with Pac-12 Elite

PASADENA, Calif. — Stanford spoiled No. 8 UCLA’s hope of a Pac-12 South title and berth in the conference championship game Friday at the Rose Bowl, 31-10...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Oregon vs. Arizona: Date, Start Time and More for 2014 Pac-12 Championship Game

Oregon will have its chance to get revenge. The second-ranked Ducks will meet the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

UCLA's loss to Stanford on Friday meant the winner of Arizona vs. Arizona State would take the Pac-12 South and earn a trip to the title game. The Wildcats beat their in-state rivals, 42-35, at home and will attempt to win the first outright Pac-12 title in school history.

ESPN College Football provided a tale of the tape between the two teams:

Oregon and Arizona met back on Oct. 2, with the Wildcats giving the Ducks their only loss of the season. Terris Jones-Grigsby provided the go-ahead score on a one-yard touchdown run with two minutes, 54 seconds left to play in the game. Scooby Wright III forced and recovered a fumble on Oregon's next drive to seal the win.

Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich felt that his team made far too many mistakes against a tough opponent.

"Again have to give Arizona a ton of credit but there was a lot of stuff in this game that makes it that much more of a bitter pill to swallow in terms of self-inflicted wounds and some of the mistakes we made," he said, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.

Helfrich and his team will have an opportunity to set the record straight next Friday.

 

When: Friday, Dec. 5, at 9 p.m. ET (6 p.m. PT)

Where: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California

Watch: Fox

Live Stream:Fox Sports Go

 

The Book on Oregon

By now, most college football fans know what to expect from Oregon. The Ducks attempt to score a lot of points in a short amount of time, and the strategy's proven extremely fruitful. While Oregon ranks 121st in average time of possession, it's also third in points per game.

The Ducks are one of the few programs where the coaches can change, but the system stays in place.

A large reason why that strategy's been so successful is Marcus Mariota, whom most list atop their Heisman Trophy rankings.

Despite an oft-injured and at times inconsistent offensive line, Mariota's thrown for 3,103 yards and 32 touchdowns to just two interceptions. The junior's also a threat on the ground, rushing for 597 yards and nine TDs, and he even caught a touchdown pass against Arizona.

He set the Pac-12 record for most touchdowns in one season, via Oregon Football:

Mariota will also go down as one of the most talented collegiate QBs ever. He's one of five players in NCAA history to pass for 9,000 yards and rush for 2,000 more:

Oregon has plenty of other talented skill players, such as Royce Freeman, Devon Allen and Byron Marshall, but everything begins and ends with Mariota. If he struggles, the Ducks will have a hard time overcoming the Wildcats.

Arizona's had Mariota's number in the past, intercepting him three times throughout his college career, the most against any opponent, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Defense could also be a problem for Oregon. It's natural that a team with such a quick-strike offense would leak some yards. Although the Ducks are 92nd in total defense (435.7 YPG), they're only giving up a more reasonable 23.6 points a game.

The concerning part about Oregon's defense is that it struggles to make stops when necessary. In the win over Oregon, Arizona converted on nine of its 17 third downs. The Ducks are 107th in third-down defense, allowing a first-down conversion 44.1 percent of the time.

Oregon can ill afford the conference championship to turn into a repeat of its earlier meeting with the Wildcats, giving Arizona chance after chance to keep the drive alive.

 

The Book on Arizona

Arizona is a bit like Oregon in that it uses a fast-paced offense built around a mobile quarterback. The Wildcats rank 111th in time of possession and 14th in yards per game.

Of course, that's not a surprise given the connection between Chip Kelly and Rich Rodriguez. It's no secret that Kelly built his Oregon offenses in the image of Rodriguez's when Rich Rod was an offensive coordinator at Tulane and Clemson and then head coach at West Virginia.

Like Oregon, much of Arizona's offensive success is centered around a talented, dual-threat quarter.

While not at the level of Mariota, Anu Solomon's been one of the Pac-12's best quarterbacks this season, carving up opposing defenses with both his arm and his feet. The freshman signal-caller has 3,424 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air and 282 yards on the ground, the final tally of which is somewhat skewed by his minus-47 yards against ASU.

The connection between Mariota and Solomon goes a bit deeper as well, with both players natives of Honolulu, Hawaii. Before Arizona's win over Oregon back in October, Solomon revealed to Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans that he'd met Mariota when the Ducks star had a workout at his old high school.

"He’s a great icon," Solomon said of Mariota. "I look up to that guy. He’s a great athlete. He’s a great guy."

While Solomon's performance will have a big say on the Pac-12 title game's outcome, what may be more imperative for Arizona is establishing a presence on the ground. Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson combined for 207 yards and three touchdowns against the Ducks earlier in the year.

In last year's upset of Oregon, the Wildcats gained 304 yards rushing, with Ka'Deem Carey carrying the ball 48 times for 206 yards and four touchdowns.

The more the Wildcats can run the ball, the more they can eat time off the clock and wear down the Oregon defense. Not to mention, the Ducks' high-powered offense will remain off the field. Slowing down the pace is No. 1 on the list of ways to beat Oregon.

One potential red flag for Arizona is the the number of narrow victories the team's had in 2014 alone, via Sports on Earth's Matt Brown:

The mark of a good team is finding a way to win close games despite not playing well. Against Oregon, though, Arizona won't have much wiggle room. One poor stretch, especially early in the game, can mean a quick two- or even three-score deficit when playing the Ducks.

Just ask Utah. The Utes looked to have taken a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter, only for Kaelin Clay to drop the ball near the goal line. Joe Walker recovered and went the length of the field for the Oregon TD.

That play brought Oregon back to life. The Ducks turned a 7-0 deficit into a 24-7 lead over 12 minutes of game time against the Utes. Oregon won, 51-27.

In terms of aesthetic beauty and entertainment, Oregon-Arizona is the best possible Pac-12 Championship matchup this year.

Between the revenge factor and similarity between the teams' styles, fans should be in for an enthralling game.

 

Note: All stats courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.

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How Missouri Can Play Spoiler for the SEC Title, College Football Playoff

The Missouri Tigers: SEC East juggernauts, apparently. 

With a 21-14 win over Arkansas on Friday, Missouri, at 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC, has secured its second straight divisional title. Next week, the Tigers will play either Alabama or Mississippi State for the chance to win the program's first SEC championship in just its third year in the league. 

In the process, Missouri can play the ultimate spoiler and throw the playoff race into total chaos. 

But before looking ahead, it's important to understand what Missouri has done and how it's done it. As Paul Myerberg of USA Today tweets, Mizzou is one of only five programs to repeat as SEC divisional champs. The other four? Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. You know, traditional SEC powers. 

The SEC East was anything but traditional this season, however, so its champion naturally is of the most unlikely kind.

South Carolina, the preseason media favorites to win the division, could finish 6-6 with a loss at Clemson and will at the very least end the year with a losing conference record.

Florida is rebuilding, but it couldn't win enough games to save head coach Will Muschamp's job. Georgia is an enigma; the Bulldogs seem like they could beat anyone in the country on any given week and lose to any team the following week. 

That brings up Missouri, which has wins over SEC West teams Texas A&M and Arkansas but losses to Georgia (34-0) and Indiana (31-27). 

It's been that kind of year in the East.

But Missouri has been able to do what many other teams haven't: close out games when it absolutely had to do so. The win over the Razorbacks was the fourth time this season the Tigers put up at least 13 fourth-quarter points to either run away with a game or rally from behind. 

In short, opponents can't let Mizzou hang around. With the exception of Florida State, there may not be a better team in college football in the final 15 minutes. 

The thing is, Missouri is not an overly explosive offense, a major departure from its days in the Big 12 with former quarterback Chase Daniel. The Tigers average 29 points per game, 10th in the SEC. In fact, Missouri doesn't rank higher than ninth in the SEC in any major offensive category, including long scrimmage plays

Rather, head coach Gary Pinkel has built a steady machine with an athletic defensive front seven that features pass-rushers who are of the nightmare variety. In 2013, it was the combination of defensive ends Michael Sam, the SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and Kony Ealy. Together, Sam and Ealy recorded 19.5 sacks. 

This year, pass-rushing specialists Shane Ray and Markus Golden combined for 20.5 sacks entering Week 14. Missouri gives up just 20 points per game and is ranked in the top four of the SEC in average yards per rush and pass attempts allowed. 

If there was any doubt that Pinkel, who is in his 14th year with the program, is closing in on Bill Snyder levels of wizardry, there shouldn't be any more. Pinkel has certainly stated his case as the SEC's coach of the year. 

He can use that wizardry to throw a giant wrench into college football's postseason plans next week. Remember: There are no great teams in college football this year. No team is immune to an upset. 

The formula will be the same whether it's Alabama or Mississippi State lining up on the other side: stop the run—both the Tide and Bulldogs enjoy healthy ground attacks—keep the score close and finish strong with defense. 

It's not the way Pinkel's Tigers have done it in the past, but it's what's working now. And it's what could work next week. 

There's no way Mizzou is getting into the playoff. Two losses could be acceptable in theory in the eyes of the selection committee. However, losing at home to an Indiana team that will, at best, finish with four wins is too much to overcome, and the shutout loss to Georgia is an eyesore. 

But that doesn't mean Missouri can't potentially shut the SEC out of the first four-team playoff. There are no prerequisites about winning a conference championship in order to get into the playoff. That said, it would be difficult to imagine a non-SEC champ, especially a non-divisional champ, being selected without total chaos across the college football landscape.

That's the kind of impact Missouri could have. Given that Missouri has arguably suffered the worst loss of any 10-win team, but is equally capable of frustrating its opponents, it would be appropriate that it could be the team to pull the upset. 

If the Tigers are in a tight game next week heading into the fourth quarter, that will play right into what they have done all year. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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Stanford vs. UCLA: Game Grades, Analysis for the Bruins

UCLA squandered a chance to punch a ticket to the Pac-12 title game and end a six-game losing streak to Stanford Friday, falling 31-10 in the Bruins' final home game of the season.

A five-game win streak propelled UCLA back into the Top 10 and into the periphery of the College Football Playoff discussion at 9-2, but that all came to a screeching halt Friday. After going down 7-0 early, Stanford dominated the rest of the contest with a 436-262 yardage advantage.

Let's take a look at how the Bruins did in every category. It's not pretty:

Pass Offense: After firing on all cylinders on possession No. 1, UCLA's passing game crumbled. Brett Hundley was ineffective and inaccurate in his final home game, going 17 of 32 with 146 yards. Much of the futility can be attributed to the offensive line, which couldn't keep Stanford's defense out of the backfield.

Run Offense: The Bruins moved the ball well with Paul Perkins—who had 17 carries for 116 yards—when committed to it. But as things got away from it, UCLA opted to air it out, and Stanford had all the answers. A plethora of sacks also downed UCLA's rushing totals.

Pass Defense: Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan carved up the Bruins on Thanksgiving weekend, going 16 of 19 for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He completed his first 10 passes. A Stanford team not known for its passing prowess simply shouldn't have found the success it did.

Run Defense: Whether it was Remound Wright or Christian McCaffrey doing the damage, Stanford got it done on the ground early and often against UCLA. Chunk-yardage runs paved the way to most of Stanford's long touchdown drives, helping it gain 22 first downs and rush for 202 yards total.

Special Teams: The Bruins' stellar 51.5 yards-per-punt average was completely overridden by a boneheaded decision to fake a field goal, down 18 late in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel could have extended the play and found someone else but threw a game-sealing pick instead.

Coaching: UCLA was constantly bashed by the same looks from Stanford's defense and failed to make any impacting adjustments. But as stated just previously, its choice to fake a field goal (when a kick would have made it a two-possession game) pretty much put the nail in the coffin. 

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Stanford vs. UCLA: Game Grades, Analysis for the Bruins

UCLA squandered a chance to punch a ticket to the Pac -12 title game and end a six-game losing streak to Stanford Friday, falling 31-10 in the Bruins' final home game of the season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Brett Hundley Injury: Updates on UCLA Star's Finger and Return

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley suffered a finger injury in the Bruins' blowout loss to the Stanford Cardinal on Friday.

Jack Wang of the L.A. Daily News had the report:

Hundley has had an up-and-down season, but he's upped his completion percentage over 70, eliminated a majority of his bad mistakes and quietly become one of the nation's best all-around quarterbacks. Hundley credits his strong play to shutting off the distractions of his impending pro career, something he couldn't do early in the season. 

“I think that’s part of it, when you want to go to the next level, you want to show people you can do things,” Hundley told Everett Cook of the Los Angeles Times. “Sometimes it changed your game, honestly…People don’t realize how much pressure there is, but at the end of the day, when you think about what got you to this point, you have to stay on your foundation.”

This injury leads to more questions about his durability. Getting hurt twice within the same season will earn a red flag for some pro teams, especially given Hundley's skill set and the way he uses his body. Like many college quarterbacks he hasn't learned the art of sliding—something some guys never quite get used to. (e.g. Robert Griffin III)

It'll of course depend on the severity of his injury to determine whether any of that matters. But it's at least worth noting for a player who will in all likelihood be a first-round draft choice if he chooses to forgo his senior year of eligibility.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Arizona State vs. Arizona: 2014 Territorial Cup Winner, Score, Twitter Reaction

Arizona secured a 42-35 victory over Arizona State on Friday to take home the Territorial Cup and earn a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game. 

UCLA had the tiebreaker against both teams coming into the day, but it needed to defeat Stanford in order to clinch the Pac-12 South. However, the Bruins lost, 31-10, allowing the Wildcats to win the division with a victory over their in-state rivals.

Running back Nick Wilson led the way for Arizona with a huge performance on the ground. The freshman had 178 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.

Quarterback Anu Solomon added 208 passing yards in the win, as well as two touchdown passes to Semajie Grant. 

Taylor Kelly started the game at quarterback for Arizona State and put up respectable numbers (144 passing yards and two touchdowns). However, head coach Todd Graham decided to switch to Mike Bercovici in the fourth quarter.

The junior quarterback came through with two touchdowns for the Sun Devils and had a chance to tie the game late, but a stop by the Wildcats on fourth-down sealed the win for Arizona.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports discussed what the victory means for the Wildcats:

Arizona jumped out to the early lead on the third play of the game, thanks to a fumble recovery by safety Anthony Lopez. Ted Miller of ESPN noted Scooby Wright made the big play:

The Wildcats continued to showcase strong defense with a goal-line stop, as described by Damien Alameda of Tucson News Now:

However, Arizona State was able to respond and tie the game at 7-7 with a defensive touchdown of their own, as defensive lineman Demetrius Cherry recovered a fumble after Solomon couldn't handle the snap.

Arizona regained the lead 55 seconds later on a 69-yard touchdown pass that started as a short slant to Grant.

As Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated noted, the whole team helped lead to a great run after the catch:

The Sun Devils answered right back. Jaelen Strong caught a 50-yard bomb, setting up a one-handed grab in the back of the end zone to tie the score at 14-14.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports remained impressed with the junior receiver:

A deflected punt late in the first half gave Arizona great field position. A few plays later, a 21-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1 gave the Wildcats the lead once again. Matt Moreno of Rivals.com liked the call:

Arizona State responded with a seven-yard touchdown catch from Demario Richard, tying the game before halftime.

During the break, the Wilcats players were kept from seeing the out-of-town scores, according to Jon Solomon of CBSSports.com:

After the break, Arizona began taking control in the third quarter. The offense moved the ball down the field with ease during a nine-play, 75-yard drive that took just 2:38.

Doug Haller of AZ Central noted the pace was a big factor:

After a missed field goal for the Sun Devils, the Wildcats were able to extend the lead on another big play by Wilson, as described by Anthony Gimino of Fox Sports Arizona:

While it seemed like the home team was going to pull away, Arizona State was able to cut the lead to 35-28 after making a switch at quarterback. Bercovici came in and immediately led a 65-yard touchdown drive that ended with a two-yard pass to Kody Kohl.

ESPN's Matt Barrie echoed the sentiments of many fans watching along:

Unfortunately, his second possession did not go as well as he was picked off by Jourdon Grandon deep in his own territory. Two plays later, Solomon answered with his second touchdown throw to Grant. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee was already looking ahead after Arizona built a 42-28 lead:

Still, Arizona State refused to give up and answered back once again with a Bercovici touchdown pass. After a defensive stop, the Sun Devils got the ball back down seven points with just under three minutes remaining and all three timeouts.

College GameDay noted the result of the drive:

Arizona did what was needed to come away with a win in arguably the biggest matchup in this rivalry's history.

Both coaches knew exactly what was on the line in this battle, from the Pac-12 South title to a high level of pride. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez explained earlier in the week at a press conference:

You know that for your fans, particularly in the state, that the rivalry game is going to mean a lot to them. But I promise it doesn't mean any more to them than it does to the players and coaches. [...]

I don't believe that, 'If you only win one game but you beat ASU, it's a good year,' but it is the most important game on our schedule because it is the rivalry game.

With the loss, Arizona State finishes regular season with a 9-3 record and should get a quality bowl game this winter, although the fans certainly knew it could've been an even better year with some different bounces.

Meanwhile, Arizona will get a chance to play for the Pac-12 Championship against Oregon on Dec. 5 at Levi's Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers.

Although a spot in the College Football Playoff might remain just out of reach with so many one-loss teams, the Wildcats are still giving themselves a chance to play for a championship. At the very least, they would love to end the year with a conference title and an appearance in a New Year's Day bowl game.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Stanford vs. UCLA: Score and Twitter Reaction

With a chance to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game, No. 8 UCLA laid an egg at home against Stanford. Using a power-running style and surprising efficiency through the air, the Cardinal dominated the Bruins with a 31-10 victory. 

This loss means two things for the Pac-12. First, the Bruins miss out on a chance to play Oregon next Saturday, as this scenario tweeted out by the Pac-12 Network shows: 

Second, UCLA's slim hopes of making it into the College Football Playoff are over. The Bruins already had a steep hill to climb with Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor also battling for that fourth spot, but a third loss eliminates Jim Mora's team regardless of what happens to those teams. 

As Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated wrote on Twitter, the drop from where UCLA could have been to where it likely will be come bowl season is steep:

While there is plenty to nitpick about UCLA's performance in a key spot, Stanford deserves all the credit for this victory. It wasn't some fluke effort where the Cardinal played their best and UCLA played its worst; Stanford dictated every part of this game from the opening kickoff. 

As Phil Murphy of ESPN.com put it, this was the Stanford performance that we have been waiting to see since the season started:

In fact, the formula used by David Shaw's team was similar to the one it used in defeating Oregon in 2012 and 2013. The Cardinal dominated the time of possession (37 minutes, 49 seconds), converted critical third downs on offense (9-of-14), ran the ball whenever they wanted (202 yards) and gave up nothing on defense after UCLA's first drive that resulted in a touchdown. 

All five of Stanford's scoring drives consisted of at least seven plays and covered at least 63 yards. That allowed the defense to catch its breath on the sidelines while wearing down UCLA's defense for the power running later in the game. 

The biggest surprise of the day was Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, who finished 16-of-19 for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 46 rushing yards on seven carries. 

The often-maligned senior picked a great day to have his best game of the season. ESPN Stats & Info tweeted out information that would rightly allow one to call this a career game for Hogan:

Mandel pointed out why Hogan's numbers look even better than what the box score will show:

Hogan wasn't just a threat with his arm. The Cardinal took full advantage of their rushing attack to open up the passing game, which included their quarterback running all over the field. Here's how much success they were having in the first half, via ESPN.com's David Lombardi:

Of course, anyone who has kept track of Brett Hundley's career at UCLA wasn't entirely surprised by this result, as these two stats from ESPN Stats & Info highlight:

Even though UCLA entered the year with a lot of hype and was riding high coming off a victory over USC last week, beating Stanford in the regular-season finale was always going to be the true litmus test. The Bruins have been like Charlie Brown trying to kick the ball, while Stanford is always pulling it away like Lucy. 

UCLA wide receiver Jordan Payton said specifically to Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times that Stanford and Oregon are litmus-test games for the Bruins in the Pac-12.

"We can't say our program is there until we beat Stanford and Oregon," Payton said. "They have been killing it the last several years. It would be a big game for us as far as our culture. We haven't taken down the big two."

The game started off perfectly for UCLA, scoring on its first drive to take a 7-0 lead. That would be as good as things would get, as the Cardinal defense went on lockdown, via Stanford Football on Twitter:

Hundley, in particular, had a day to forget. Not only did UCLA come up short in its quest for a Pac-12 title, but he also ended the game on the sidelines with a hand injury in the fourth quarter, via Mark McClune of CBS5 in Phoenix:

Even though the loss doesn't look good for UCLA, it's not like Stanford is a bad team. Don't be fooled by the 6-5 record for the Cardinal. Their five losses came against USC, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and Utah.

Three of those defeats (USC, Notre Dame, Utah) came by a combined nine points, while Oregon and Arizona State are two of the best teams in the Pac-12. You can't go back and replay those games, but Stanford was a handful of plays away from being 9-2 coming into this game. 

Stanford and UCLA will prepare for their respective bowl games, while the latter will also spend the offseason trying to figure out how to get over the white whale that is Stanford in 2015. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.

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Texas A&M Football: Who Replaces Mark Snyder as Aggies' Defensive Coordinator?

It's not too surprising that the Texas A&M Aggies have axed defensive coordinator Mark Snyder after a subpar year that saw the Aggies give up over 27 points and nearly 450 yards per game. 

So, the question remains: Who will replace Snyder? 

For the interim, Mark Hagen, the linebackers coach, will take over. 

But everybody knows about a recent job opening in Gainesville, Florida, and everybody knows that the guy who will soon leave that spot was one heck of a defensive coordinator for years in the Lone Star State. 

So, who are the most likely candidates to replace Snyder?

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Arkansas vs. Missouri: Game Grades, Analysis for Razorbacks and Tigers

The University of Arkansas Razorbacks and University of Missouri Tigers came into Friday's matchup with plenty to prove.

Bret Bielema's Arkansas team entered the contest hoping to come away with a third win against SEC opposition in as many weeks, while Missouri needed a win to secure a second straight SEC East crown.

After a sloppy first half went Arkansas' way, Missouri rallied to score 15 unanswered, fourth-quarter points and come away with a division-clinching home win on senior night.

Here are further analysis and game grades for both teams.

 

Arkansas Razorbacks Grade Analysis

Passing Offense

Brandon Allen was the surprise of the first half with his efficient passing.  He only threw for 77 yards, but he hit on 70 percent of his first-half passes and tossed two touchdowns.  In the second half, Allen's momentum dissipated as a nagging back injury seemed to come into play.  As a result, Arkansas' offense mostly stalled.

 

Rushing Offense

As always, Arkansas ran the ball effectively in the first half, but the Razorbacks weren't outstanding on the ground.  Sixteen carries yielded 89 yards, with Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins doing most of the work.  Though the running game was adequate in the second half, it wasn't enough to spark any excitement.

 

Pass Defense

Arkansas consistently pressured Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk and managed to haul in an interception.  Additionally, he was held to a low completion percentage.  In the second half—particularly the fourth quarter—Missouri's offense made play after play through the air, as Arkansas was too soft in coverage.

 

Run Defense

The Razorbacks' run defense was incredibly impressive in the first half, holding Mizzou to 22 yards on 17 carries.  But, to be fair, much of that was a result of crowding the box.  In the fourth quarter, that stout performance against the run disappeared, as the Tigers sliced the Razorbacks repeatedly for large chunks of yardage and took the lead.

 

Special Teams

The Razorbacks' special teams play was stellar all day.  Punt coverage stood out, as did a critical blocked kick. 

 

Coaching

Bielema's squad came ready to play, and that showed from the onset.  In the first half, the difference in the game was the tone that Arkansas set on its first defensive possession and the ensuing offensive drive.  In the end, however, Arkansas did not find a way to win a close game.

 

 

Missouri Tigers Grade Analysis

Passing Offense

Mauk was on his back or scrambling for life far too often in the first half.  Without proper pass protection, he never had a chance. As a result, he struggled.  In the second half, he came alive with more protection, and the entire offense was revitalized.

 

Rushing Offense

With Missouri behind on down and distance, the running game never really became a factor for the Tigers in the first half.  Again, the offensive line was manhandled for much of the first two quarters.  Once the passing attack found success, the ground game became more viable in the second half and helped propel the Tigers past the Razorbacks.

 

Pass Defense

Arkansas didn't throw for a ton of yards in the first half, but both of the Razorbacks' scores came through the air, and Allen looked impressive in finding wide-open targets.  Missouri's pass rush was more of a threat in the second half, which rattled (and possibly injured) Allen, allowing the Tigers secondary to capitalize.

 

Run Defense

It's hard to slow down the Razorbacks' ground attack, but Mizzou held its own in the first half, primarily by refusing to give up long runs to Williams and Collins.  Ultimately, however, too many first downs were given up on the ground in long-yardage scenarios in the first half.  In the second half, the Mizzou run defense was somewhat improved, but Arkansas was more pass reliant.

 

Special Teams

Missouri connected on two field goals from 50 or more yards away in the first half but had a field goal blocked later in the game.  All in all, those critical field goals were the defining moments of this phase of the game and kept the Tigers in the game early.

 

Coaching

Play-calling was erratic in the first half for Missouri.  The Tigers threw in short-yardage situations and ran on too many third-and-longs.  As a whole, the team did not match Arkansas' intensity.  The second half was a different story.  Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel thoroughly outmatched Bielema for most of the game's final two quarters and secured the victory.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of NCAA.com.

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Arkansas vs. Missouri: Score and Twitter Reaction from 2014 Battle Line Rivalry

No. 17 Missouri overcame an early 11-point deficit to score a 21-14 Battle Line Rivalry victory over Arkansas and secure the SEC East title.

The Razorbacks and Tigers came into the game as two of the hottest teams in the SEC. Arkansas won two straight games over ranked foes by a combined score of 47-0. Missouri scored five straight victories to give itself a golden opportunity to win the division crown

It created an interesting, tension-filled atmosphere at Faurot Field. Here's how the contest played out quarter by quarter:

One thing Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel was worried about coming into the game was the matchup problems Arkansas could create. It excelled in recent weeks by using a talented offensive line and different looks up front to generate big plays.

Luke Thompson of Fox Sports provided comments from Pinkel, who pointed to those adjustments on offense as why the Razorbacks have stepped up after a sluggish start.

"They present a lot of formational problems," he said. "With personnel they do a lot of unusual type things in how they line up formations, and they do that to get an edge to get an extra blocker at the point of attack, and they're very good at what they do."

Those remarks turned out to be quite prophetic.

After a three-and-out drive to open the game by the Tigers, the visitors found a rhythm and moved the ball with ease. The Razorbacks covered 70 yards in 11 plays while using nearly seven minutes of the clock before getting on the scoreboard first.

The scoring play perfectly summed up the drive. Running back Jonathan Williams took the toss from Brandon Allen and scampered into the end zone untouched to make it 7-0.

Tony Barnhart of the SEC Network praised the effort:

Missouri responded with a long drive of its own.

It moved the ball all the way down to the Arkansas 22 before things stalled out. Maty Mauk took a bad sack on third down that put the Tigers on the fringe of field-goal range. Luckily for him, Andrew Baggett connected from 52 yards to get something out of the drive.

Baggett was only 12-of-18 with a long of 44 coming into the game. The junior had also missed a pair of extra points last week. Joe Walljasper of the Columbia Daily Tribune noted that field goal should help him get back in his coach's good graces:

Missouri couldn't capitalize after getting a stop and then Arkansas flipped the field thanks to a 35-yard punt return by Jared Cornelius to set the Razorbacks up inside Tigers territory.

Six plays later they made it 14-3, as Allen found Keon Hatcher, who fought his way over the goal line for the score. Former Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner likes what he's seen from the junior wideout:

Missouri got back within one score before halftime. After getting the ball at the 7 with just over two minutes left, it drove 60 yards to get in field-goal range. Once again Baggett was on target from 50 yards out to make it 14-6.

For the Tigers, being only down eight given the way both teams played at the half was acceptable. Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports wasn't sure how the game stayed so close:

Following a punt to open the third quarter by Arkansas, Missouri embarked on a 16-play drive. It didn't capitalize, however, as the Baggett magic ended. His 35-yard attempt came out low and was blocked at the line by Dan Skipper.

While the Hogs didn't score on the ensuing possession, it did feature a successful fake punt. Sam Irwin-Hill took the fourth-down snap 23 yards for a first down. Ethan Levine of Saturday Down South was impressed with the punter's second such effort this season:

Though it was a pretty active quarter, the score remained 14-6 heading to the final quarter.

The Tigers changed that early in the fourth. A highlight-reel pitch and catch from Mauk to Bud Sasser gave them 1st-and-goal from inside the 5. They scored two plays later as Mauk was on target again, this time to Jimmie Hunt for a touchdown.

Then Missouri went into the bag of tricks for the two-point conversion. Sasser came around the formation on a wideout reverse, took the ball and threw to an open Darius White to level the score at 14.

Mizzou Football summed up the turn of events:

Arkansas failed to respond as several of Allen's passes soared wide. The quarterback was dealing with a hip injury during the week. As the Tigers picked up the pressure, he struggled with his accuracy.

With the tide turning in its favorite, Missouri drove again. The tandem of Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy kept the pressure on the Razorbacks defense with some punishing runs.

Instead of attempting a 46-yard field goal, Gary Pinkel went for it on fourth down, and Hansbrough converted. The risk paid off as the Tigers capped off the six-minute drive with a 12-yard touchdown run by Murphy.

Jon Solomon of CBS Sports highlighted the strong play up front by Missouri:

As the Razorbacks were driving, there was a seemingly nondescript run by Alex Collins that picked up three yards. Arkansas called timeout and then Markus Golden came out of the pile with the ball. The officials ruled the runner down and went to a media break.

The play was then reviewed and overturned, giving the Tigers the fumble recovery. The SEC Network noted the huge play:

Missouri proceeded to run out the clock. SI College Football provided some notes about the win:

With the loss, Arkansas finishes the regular season at 6-6. The wins over LSU and Ole Miss showed the upside fans were hoping to see more of during the campaign. But the second half of Friday's game illustrated the inconsistency that prevented that from happening.

As for Missouri, the victory secures the East division title and a spot in the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers will play either Alabama or Mississippi State depending on Saturday's results. It's their second straight trip to the title game. They lost to Auburn last year.

That game will be held next Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

 

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Nebraska Cornhuskers' 2014 Success Based on Effort of Players, Not Coaches

Bo Pelini had one word to describe quarterback Tommy Armstrong's performance against Iowa: gutsy. "That is one of the gutsiest performance I've ever seen," the head coach said.

While it wasn't a perfect performance, Pelini's description was correct. Looking at Armstrong's numbers, he took a poor first-half performance and turned it around to help the Huskers come back in the second.

When it comes down to it, the success of the 2014 season really can be credited to the players. From seniors Kenny Bell and Ameer Abdullah to sophomore Nate Gerry and freshman De'Mornay Pierson-El, it was a team effort that got Nebraska to its 9-3 record.

Before taking any questions after the game, Pelini was clear that it was the players who made all the difference.

"I've been around a long time and coached a lot of years but I don't know if I've ever been more proud than of the guys in that room," he said. "The character they showed, the fight. I mean, a lot of guys down. A lot of things going against us and they kept fighting. It's all you can ask as a coach."

With talk about Pelini's future controlling most of the conversation recently, it would have been easy to get distracted. The injuries to veteran starters and the short week before Iowa also could have been problematic, yet the Nebraska players kept fighting.

Things looked bleak when the Huskers were down 24-7. Yet, the players didn't quit. And if there's anything worth celebrating, it's that.

"I knew our kids would keep fighting," Pelini reiterated during the postgame press conference.

That's a true statement for most of this season. It wasn't always pretty and it didn't always end in the result fans wanted, but it was a team that kept fighting.

Abdullah specifically carried this team from start to finish (both against Iowa and all season). Back in September, Nebraska was struggling to defeat McNeese State. That was until Abdullah had something to say about it.

"He put the team on his back and won the game," Pelini said at that time. "Thank God for Ameer. He showed why he is who he is."

Against the Hawkeyes, Abdullah wasn't alone. He had teammates like Pierson-El out to make the big plays too. After Iowa's punter prevented the freshman from returning a punt, Pierson-El decided that things would be different the next time. "He got me one time, I wasn't going to let it happen again," he said.

And sure enough, Pierson-El returned a punt 80 yards for the touchdown, which secured Nebraska a 28-24 lead at the time.

"He competes, he loves to play," Pelini said about Pierson-El. "He doesn’t act like a freshman. He has a smile on his face. He loves the moment. To be a freshman and go back and return punts the way he does, it’s not easy to do. He’s fearless about it and he played really well."

If nothing else, the performance against Iowa showed resilience. Despite all of the talk surrounding the future of Nebraska's coaches, the players tuned it out and kept playing. That alone is what made 2014 a success.

There will be a lot of talk going forward around Pelini's job, as well as the jobs of his assistants. It was brought up again in the postgame press conference before Pelini brushed it aside, saying it's the last thing he's currently thinking about.

And it likely is the last thing on his mind. During many games this season, Pelini's team stepped up when it needed to. So when it's time to give credit where credit is due, it should fall to the players who made it happen.

Is there anything more a coach could want? Not as far as Pelini's concerned.

 

All quotes and stats obtained via Huskers' postgame press conference, both against McNeese State and Iowa, unless otherwise noted.

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Nebraska vs. Iowa: Game Grades, Analysis for the Huskers and Hawkeyes

It was a very wild game in Iowa City, but the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers were able to defeat the University of Iowa Hawkeyes 37-34 in overtime. The final box score can be found here, thanks to NCAA.com.

Both teams made plays on offense, defense and special teams. But Iowa looked as if it was going to run away with the game in the third quarter, leading 24-7. Tommy Armstrong was not going to have any of that, as he threw four touchdown passes in the win.

It was a good win for the Huskers and a tough loss for the Hawkeyes. But everyone in attendance and everyone who was watching on TV got their money’s worth.

Here are game grades and analysis for the Huskers and Hawkeyes.

 

Passing Offense

Armstrong started off slow in the passing game. In fact, he threw two interceptions in the first half, but they did not lead to any points for Iowa. Armstrong picked things up in the second half, throwing two big touchdown passes and the game-winner in overtime. The passing offense was not at its best, but Armstrong and his receivers made plays in key situations.

 

Running Offense

The Huskers rushed for 161 yards, which is well below their 256 average. They picked things up in the second half when Ameer Abdullah was able to get going. His 106-yard performance was the first time he has rushed for over 100 yards since the beginning of the month. It was not easy to run on the Hawkeyes, but Abullah ran hard all game long, and it paid off in the second half.

 

Passing Defense

Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock had a strong outing with 230 yards and two touchdowns. The problem for the Huskers was they did not put any pressure on him in the early stages of the game. But once they made the adjustments in the second half, they were able to tighten up the coverage. One of the defensive players of the game was defensive back Nate Gerry, who had 15 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and an interception in the first half.

 

Running Defense

The Hawkeyes rushed for 142 yards, but they only averaged 2.8 yards per carry. Ziare Anderson was big for the Huskers, as he tallied 14 tackles and one forced fumble. Middle linebacker Trevor Roach was right behind Anderson with eight tackles. The front seven for the Huskers never let the running backs for Iowa run wild because the Huskers never got beat off the line of scrimmage consistently. They have improved greatly compared to the University of Wisconsin game a few weeks ago.

 

Special Teams

To say it was a mixed bag for the special teams would be an understatement. The Huskers had a missed field goal in the first quarter, but they also recovered a fumble on a punt return in the same quarter. They had a field goal blocked that was returned for a touchdown, but De’Mornay Pierson-El had two big returns in the fourth quarter—and one was returned for a touchdown to give the Huskers the lead. It was a game where the special teams made big mistakes but also helped the Huskers win the game.

 

Coaching

Bo Pelini did a good job making second-half adjustments so the Huskers were able to get back in the game. He also did a good job managing the clock at the end of the game so his offense had time to go downfield and hit the game-tying field goal. It has not been the best year for Pelini and his coaching staff, but he has a chance to finish the season with 10 wins, which is always a good accomplishment.

 

Passing Offense

It was a solid day for Rudock when it comes to the passing game. He threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw one interception and was only 19-of-38. Rudock showed toughness all game long. But as the game went on, the coverage for the Huskers got better and the shots downfield weren’t there compared to the first half.

 

Running Offense

Iowa is not a team that runs the ball well compared to other teams in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes only rushed for 142 yards on 50 carries. The problem with the Hawkeyes is they don’t have a running back that is a game-changer. Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri are guys that can grind it out, but they only average about 3.5 yards per carry. If they were able to run the ball more effectively, the Hawkeyes might have won.

 

Passing Defense

Despite the four touchdown passes given up by the Hawkeyes, they limited Armstrong to 202 yards and picked him off twice in the first half. The coverage was never bad for Iowa; it was Armstrong being able to make good throws to Kenny Bell and Pierson-El. It’s disappointing how Iowa lost the way it did after giving up a touchdown pass from Armstrong to Bell, because the coverage was there. However, Armstong and Bell were able to improvise.

 

Running Defense

The only problem the Hawkeyes had in the run game was Abdullah. Despite the 106 yards he gained, 53 of those yards came on one play. Nebraska easily averages 250 yards per game on the ground, and it only gained 161. Armstrong only rushed for 31 yards, and Imani Cross only carried the ball three times. Quinton Alston tallied eight tackles and one tackle for loss, while Josey Jewell added seven tackles. Both players were very solid in the run game, as they were able fly to the football.

 

Special Teams

Like Nebraska, it was a mixed bag for the special teams. The Hawkeyes got a touchdown off special teams, but they had a very hard time containing return man Pierson-El, as he had two big returns—one of them went for a touchdown. The Hawkeyes also had a return that was fumbled in the first half. As good as the special teams played at times, they were just as bad in key moments in the game, which is one of the reasons why the Hawkeyes came up short.

 

Coaching

Kirk Ferentz always has his players ready to play, and that was the case against Nebraska, as the Hawkeyes were up 24-7 in the third quarter. But the players had issues executing toward the end of the game and let the game slip away in the fourth quarter. That’s not all on Ferentz because the players have to execute better in key situations. When Iowa plays in its bowl game, Ferentz will make sure his players won’t make the same mistakes again.

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Texas A&M Fires Defensive Coordinator Mark Snyder: Latest Details and Analysis

On the heels of Texas A&M's 23-17 loss to LSU in the regular season finale for both teams, Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder has been fired. 

According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, Texas A&M announced that Snyder was relieved of his duties on Friday evening. 

Snyder has been part of Kevin Sumlin's staff since 2012. His defenses have always struggled to support otherwise strong offensive units in three years at Texas A&M. That was never more evident than this season, when the Aggies were trying to break in a new quarterback with Johnny Manziel going to the NFL. 

Here is how Texas A&M's defense currently ranks in the four major categories, via StatMilk:

As for potential replacements, Bleacher Report's Lead SEC Writer Barrett Sallee does note that the immediate expectation shouldn't be for Texas A&M to land soon-to-be-former Florida head coach Will Muschamp:

Sumlin has a reputation as an offensive-minded head coach, going back to his days at Houston when the team led the nation in total offense and scoring in 2011. The Aggies will need a strong defensive-minded coordinator who can recruit and coach in order to avoid another disappointing season next year. 

Muschamp certainly should be on the short list of candidates given the success he's had building Florida's defense and dating back to his time as defensive coordinator at Texas. He's going to have his choice of jobs, so Texas A&M will have to fight hard if it hopes to entice him. 

 

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Marshall Proves It Doesn't Belong in Playoff Conversation with Embarrassing Loss

The Marshall University Thundering Herd were never truly in the playoff conversation. Everybody knew, whether they openly admitted it or not, that the upper echelon of the Power Five would squash Marshall. 

But Rakeem Cato and Co. always had one thing that nobody else besides Florida State University had in college football—an undefeated record. 

Not anymore. 

It's a tune that is almost tired at this point, but it's something that still stings to those that grasped onto hope until the very end.

There was the University of Houston and Case Keenum's letdown in the Conference USA title game to the University of Southern Mississippi in 2011 after tearing through the regular season undefeated. 

There was Northern Illinois University in 2013, with a regular season-ending loss to Bowling Green State University after going 12-0. 

Those teams have always represented hope for the "Group of Five." After all, undefeated is undefeated, and it's hard to argue against—even if your toughest opponent was Rice University. 

However, Marshall's embarrassing loss to Western Kentucky University—a 67-66 overtime tilt that was won when the Hilltoppers converted a two-point conversion in the first overtime—proved it. Marshall doesn't belong in the playoff conversation. 

What's worse is that Marshall all but lost an opportunity to play in a top-tier bowl game as well. That honor will now likely befall either Boise State University or Colorado State University. 

Marshall's run was certainly respectable. Like I said, undefeated is undefeated and winning 11 games is admirable and worth celebrating no matter the team or the level of football. 

But the notion that Marshall belonged at the playoff table—or even in the discussion—simply because it was undefeated was naive. Marshall hasn't faced any Power Five teams, and it has even had some relatively close calls against bottom-feeder FBS schools (see Middle Tennessee State University, University of Alabama at Birmingham). 

It was Marshall that dug its own grave on Friday afternoon, though. Cato threw four interceptions—three of them in the first half. That alone gave Western Kentucky the momentum it needed to control the pace of the game, and it should remove Cato from any Heisman Trophy talk as well. 

The Herd gave up 67 points, including the game-winning two-point conversion—to Western Kentucky. 

Perhaps it's a good thing that Boise State or Colorado State will be the Group of Five representative in a top-tier bowl. Boise State has history there—successful history I might add—while Colorado State has beaten two Power Five teams. 

How would Marshall have fared against the likes of an Auburn University, University of Mississippi or Baylor University? If Brandon Doughty hung 67 on the board, imagine what Nick Marshall, Bryce Petty or even Bo Wallace would do. 

Marshall's run was a fun one. And it deserves a decent bowl selection and some prime-time billing for it. Cato is still an elite quarterback whose career outshines most at that university. 

But Marshall was never playoff worthy. It was never even close. 

Friday's loss just affirmed that. 

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