NCAA Football

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the AP Top 25 After Week 2

Outside of a couple of big games—Michigan State at Oregon, Stanford at USC—Week 2 of the college football season looked pretty drab on paper. But, as weekends that look drab on paper are wont to do, it ended up being a memorable one.

Both of those big games lived up to their billing, and behind them, a small group of big-name programs getting pushed to the limit by underdogs made for gripping entertainment from start to finish. 

With a few of those programs going down, next week's Associated Press rankings should take a much different shape than this week's.

Here is a prediction of the order we might see on Sunday:

Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 2 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself. Predictions made under the assumption that all remaining Week 1 games finish as betting spreads would indicate.

 

Fun Facts 

• North Carolina was No. 21 last week but drops out of the rankings despite coming back to beat San Diego State in Chapel Hill, 31-27. Nebraska was No. 19 last week but incurs the same fate after needing some late-game heroics to beat an FCS team, McNeese State. If either team actually goes unranked Sunday afternoon—which is, of course, not guaranteed—they would be the first 2-0 teams to fall from the rankings since Missouri in 2009. That Mizzou team finished 8-5.

• After winning at Stanford, USC rises up to No. 9, its highest ranking since Week 3 of the 2012 season. The reason it dropped back then? A road loss at Stanford. Every time the Trojans play in Palo Alto, you can bank on a top-10 shakeup.

 

Teams Rising

USC

It wasn't always pretty, but USC-Stanford games never are. They're supposed to be low-scoring, painful, grind-it-out fistfights, and the team that lands the final punch is supposed to end up better in the long run because of it.

And that's exactly what USC should be after its 13-10 win on The Farm. One week after running 104 plays and gaining 700-plus yards against Fresno State, the Trojans proved they could win in multiple ways.

Even though they got outgained by more than 100 yards and benefited from a little bit of luck (David Shaw's coaching, ugly turnovers, terrible kicking), beating the Cardinal on the road is no small task.

It's deserving of a top-10 ranking.

 

Notre Dame

It's not clear what should be made of Michigan, a team that looked great against Appalachian State in Week 1 but could easily be the same type of train wreck as last year. Either way, though, the Wolverines were a far better test for Notre Dame than Rice, but the Irish looked roughly as dominant in a 31-0 win Saturday night.

In the process, Notre Dame snapped Michigan's NCAA record streak of 376 consecutive games since its last shutout.

"It only counts for one," said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com), "[But] I'd be lying if I told you that it didn't feel great to shut out Michigan 31 to nothing."

Not a bad way for the Irish to end this rivalry (for now).

 

BYU

An easy way to rise early in the season: Beat somebody.

An easier way to rise early in the season: Beat somebody on the road.

BYU did both Saturday night, beating Charlie Strong's Texas Longhorns in Austin, 41-7. The margin of victory (34) was actually 15 points higher than that of last year's program-changing blowout: the one that effectively cost Mack Brown his job after 16 years.

Quarterback Taysom Hill couldn't match last year's ridiculous rushing numbers (17 carries, 259 yards, three touchdowns in 2013), but his improved passing accuracy was on display, and he still left a lasting image with his legs.

 

Virginia Tech

To quote the section above: 

An easy way to rise early in the season: Beat somebody.

An easier way to rise early in the season: Beat somebody on the road.

Virginia Tech did both Saturday night, beating an Ohio State team with severe offensive problems. JT Barrett couldn't complete a 10-question survey against the Hokies' secondary, and the offensive line was a human turnstile against the Hokies' front seven.

Still, Frank Beamer's team deserves credit for going into Columbus and leaving with a win—regardless of the flaws of the opponent. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer played a great game at quarterback, overcoming a big interception to lead the game-winning touchdown drive in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Florida State does not want Virginia Tech to win the ACC Coastal.

 

Teams Falling

Ohio State

Are we sure that was an Urban Meyer-coached team?

The Buckeyes were outplayed, out-schemed, out-muscled, out-worked and altogether outclassed on their home field by Virginia Tech, losing by two touchdowns, 35-21. The final score was inflated—technically—by a pick-six at the end of the fourth quarter, but despite that, Ohio State was lucky to even keep it this close.

 

North Carolina

The Tar Heels were lucky to escape against San Diego State, looking shaky for the second consecutive week despite the 2-0 record.

They've now given up 340-plus yards in both of their 2014 games, first to Liberty and now to the Aztecs.

Larry Fedora's team should continue lighting up the scoreboard—something Fedora-coached teams have never had a problem doing—but it does not have an ACC-contender worthy defense, as some had quixotically hoped. Especially with Virginia Tech rising, its chances of winning the ACC Coastal are trending the wrong way.

 

UCLA

UCLA had a chance to prove that Week 1 at Virginia was a fluke—and in some ways, it did. The offense wasn't nearly as bad as it looked against the Wahoos, but the defense wasn't nearly as good.

Perhaps both units were a fluke.

The Bruins very nearly lost to Memphis at home Saturday, allowing 35 points and not taking the lead for good until late into the fourth quarter. The whole "9 a.m. kickoff on the west coast" excuse is no longer viable to bail them out. The most logical verdict on Jim Mora's team right now is perhaps it just isn't that good.

Expect it to tumble because of that.

 

Nebraska

Ameer Abdullah made the highlight of the season (so far) with less than a minute to go against McNeese State, putting the team on his back with a ridiculous, Super Mario Bros.-esque touchdown reception in a tied game to bail Nebraska out of an ugly upset.

That's the good news. The bad news is that…well, Nebraska needed to be bailed out of an ugly upset. If not for Abdullah, the Huskers would have had to take McNeese State to overtime on its home field.

That is not something a top-20 team would do.

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Cameron Artis-Payne Establishing Himself as Auburn's Replacement for Tre Mason

AUBURN, Ala.—After Auburn's commanding 59-13 win against San Jose State on Saturday night, head coach Gus Malzahn still stayed true to his running back hierarchy.

Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant are still "1 and 1A" on the Tigers' depth chart at running back.

"We utilize both those guys," Malzahn said. "Nothing has changed as far as that goes."

Malzahn may still say that, but the numbers don't lie.

Artis-Payne started the game at running back for Auburn, took the majority of Auburn's carries and broke the century in rushing yards for the second straight week Saturday night.

The Harrisburg, Pa. native recorded 15 of his 16 touches and all three of his touchdowns before halftime as the Tigers received little resistance on the ground from the Spartans. Auburn averaged 7.2 yards per carry, and Artis-Payne averaged seven yards by himself.

"[Artis-Payne] is a great back, a great leader and a great person," true freshman running back Roc Thomas said. "He keeps his head up if something's not going his way, and he keeps our heads up when something's not going our way."

After struggling to get carries last season with Tre Mason leading the way as the feature back, Artis-Payne said he feels he is getting better as a back through the first two games of the season.

"I'm just being more comfortable," Artis-Payne said. "Understanding blocks and reading blocks better. But all-in-all, being more comfortable knowing that I'm going to be in the game and not having to worry about playing time."

Now, Artis-Payne is the runaway candidate to replace Mason as the leading rusher.

Although the speedy Grant has worked over the offseason to get bigger and stronger as a between-the-tackles rusher, Artis-Payne has the experience of being more of an every-down back than the speed sweep specialist.

"He has a good understanding of the overall offense," Malzahn said. "He’s a good pass protector. He’s getting more comfortable behind this line."

Against San Jose State, Artis-Payne showcased a more all-around running game by bouncing to the outside for big gains.

The senior knows the stereotype placed on him, and he wants to get past that in his effort to become the next feature back at a school known for producing top rushers.

"I wanted to come out and show my speed because everybody says I'm a bruiser," Artis-Payne said. "That's a big thing for me. All-in-all, it was just what the offensive line gave us and the looks the defense gave us."

That ability to take whatever defenses give him, from getting into the second level on the outside to busting through the heart of the line for the end zone, has made him Auburn's leading running back through the first two games of the season.

Unofficially, that is.

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 2

The top players in college football are making a case for why they should be in the Heisman Trophy discussion.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Barrett Sallee makes his predictions on who he thinks deserves to be in the hunt.

Who do you think will win the Heisman? Watch the video and let us know.

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Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State: Game Grades, Analysis for the Hokies and Buckeyes

Virginia Tech entered Ohio Stadium as the 11-point underdog for its matchup against No. 8 Ohio State. Three-and-a-half hours later, they left as 14-point victors after shocking the Buckeyes with a 35-21 upset.

The win was big for Frank Beamer and the Hokies, who look primed to make a run in the ACC. The loss was a big blow to the Buckeyes, who lost in the regular season for the first time under Urban Meyer.

How did the two teams grade out?

 

Virginia Tech Hokies Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer turned in a gutty performance, completing 22-of-36 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. He took a beating throughout the game and committed three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble), but he played through pain, connecting with seven different receivers to keep the Buckeyes off balance.

Run Offense: It's very hard to run on the Buckeyes, but Virginia Tech found a few lanes on their way to 125 rushing yards. Deon Newsome led the way with 38 yards on four carries, but Marshawn Williams' 14-yard touchdown scamper in the first half was the biggest run of the game.

Pass Defense: Virginia Tech's pass defense was absolutely dominant, especially down the stretch. J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes had a rough night as the Hokies tallied six sacks and two interceptions—one of which was returned for a touchdown—in the fourth quarter alone. 

Run Defense: The Hokies limited Ohio State to 108 rushing yards Saturday night—the lowest output from the Buckeyes under Meyer. They got those yards on 40 carries as Virginia Tech only allowed 2.7 yards per carry.

Special Teams: To the surprise of nobody, Virginia Tech won the special teams battle. There were no game-changing punt blocks or returns, but the Hokies were smart with the kicking game, especially in the first half as they controlled the field position. The only thing that prevented a perfect grade was a missed 46-yard field goal from Joey Slye late in the fourth quarter.

Coaching: Frank Beamer, Bud Foster and the Virginia Tech coaching staff drew up a masterful game plan against the Buckeyes. The performance of the offense was particularly impressive considering the Hokies had no game film of Ohio State's new-look defense against a conventional offense (the Buckeyes played Navy in their season opener). Virginia Tech's defense seemed prepared for everything Ohio State tried offensively, which led to the dominant performance.

 

Ohio State Buckeyes Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: J.T. Barrett's passing stats were brutal enough—he completed just 9-of-29 passes for 219 yards and one touchdown against three interceptions. The offensive line blocking up front did him no favors as the Buckeyes surrendered seven total sacks to Virginia Tech's defense. Ohio State's receivers had a woeful night catching the ball, dropping a number of passes that could have been the difference in the game.

Run Offense: This does not look like a team that's a year removed from ranking No. 5 in the country in rush offense. The Buckeyes ran for just 108 yards against the Hokies, and only 58 of those yards were produced by the Buckeyes' running backs. Barrett led the way with 70 yards on 24 carries, a workload that needs reworking if the quarterback hopes to make it through the entire season.

Pass Defense: It wasn't all bad for the Buckeyes Saturday night. The secondary looked improved under the direction of new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. The Buckeyes only allowed 199 passing yards and forced three turnovers from Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer. There were still holes in the defense, but a turnaround appears to be in the works for Ohio State's pass defense.

Run Defense: The Buckeyes were once again solid against the run, limiting a dynamic group of Virginia Tech running backs. The Hokies averaged just three yards per rush, and the Buckeyes defensive line came up with 10 tackles for loss on the night. 

Special Teams: The Ohio State special teams were horrendous. Two missed field goals from Sean Nuernberger, a shanked punt, a kickoff that went out of bounds, poor results in the return game—everything went wrong for the Buckeyes on Saturday night. The only redeeming play on special teams came early in the third quarter, when Cameron Johnston pinned Virginia Tech inside its own five with a perfectly placed punt. 

Coaching: Ohio State was thoroughly out-schemed by Virginia Tech, something Meyer admitted in his post-game comments. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman and the Buckeyes failed to adjust or come up with a way to attack Virginia Tech's defense. There were a few ill-timed blitzes from co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Ash. It was just an all-around bad night for the Buckeyes.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State: How Hokies' Upset Reshapes Playoffs

When Braxton Miller was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, many were quick to write off Ohio State as a contender for college football's four-team playoff. 

It took just two weeks for those opinions to be validated. 

The No. 8 Buckeyes dug themselves into a big deficit in the first half against unranked Virginia Tech Saturday night and weren't able to complete a comeback, falling 35-21 at home. 

A spot in the Final Four isn't completely out of the question. If Ohio State runs the table the rest of the way, it would be 12-1 with a victory over Michigan State in Lansing, as well as a win in the Big Ten Championship game. 

CBS Sports' Dane Brugler is already looking forward to "The Game":

It would obviously depend how the other big conferences play out, but that's a pretty good resume. The problem is, the chances of that happening if Ohio State plays like it did Saturday night are somewhere between pigs flying and J.T. Barrett hitting a five-foot-wide target from 15 yards away. 

Barrett, the talented freshman quarterback, has simply been thrown into the mix too early. He displayed his tremendous playmaking ability on the ground, rushing for 70 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (that takes into account his sacks, as well), but he completed just nine of 29 throws for 206 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. 

Grantland's Bill Barnwell joked, while Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel noted he wasn't getting much help from the run game:

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder also chimed in after Virginia Tech dialed up the blitzes and continually put Barrett on his back in the fourth quarter:

No matter who you want to put the blame on, Ohio State's offense was a mess for most of Saturday night, and the team's 2014 outlook isn't pretty at this point. 

It's also interesting to note what this might mean for Michigan State. 

The Spartans lost at Oregon Saturday, but they looked very good for 35 minutes and are believed by most to be the class of the Big Ten. Should they run the table, it's going to get tricky for the selection committee. 

Ohio State lost, Michigan was dominated by Notre Dame and Nebraska nearly fell against McNeese State. The conference is not making a great case for having a spot in the Final Four. 

There's still a lot of season left to play, but it's probably time for the Buckeyes to readjust end-of-the-season expectations. 

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College Football Playoff Projections After Week 2

Week 2 of the 2014 college football season is coming to a close with some of the top teams in the country showing why they are in a class of their own. Bleacher Report college football analyst Adam Kramer breaks down who should be in the four-team playoff after their performances this week. Who do you think should be in the 2014 playoffs?

Watch the video and let us know.

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What Devastating End to Notre Dame Rivalry Means for Michigan Football

Michigan 31-0 loss to rival Notre Dame is a devastating blow to supporters of Brady Hoke’s rebuilding program. Last year athletic director David Brandon denied that Hoke was on the hot seat, despite a 7-6 record. But after watching the Irish demolish the Wolverines, it’s hard to see how the team has improved, despite numerous offseason changes.

A scheduling quirk means, for the first time in 135 years, Michigan plays all three of its key rivals on the road. Of those three games, Notre Dame appeared to be most winnable, but the Michigan offense self-destructed, being shut out for first time since 1984—a 26-0 road loss to Iowa.

In his fourth season Hoke is now 0-5 on the road versus Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. Still on tap are visits to East Lansing and Columbus where Michigan will be a prohibitive underdog. Hoke is still seeking a signature win against a higher-ranked opponent on the road or at home.

Michigan actually outgained Notre Dame in total yardage (289 to 280) but was undone by turnovers—three interceptions and a fumble, while Notre Dame had none.

Last season quarterback Devin Gardner was dogged by bad interceptions—throws into obvious coverage—and despite Doug Nussmeier’s streamlining of the offense, interceptions sunk Michigan in this game. Gardner was under constant harassment behind an offensive line that provided little protection. The scene was eerily similar to last season’s defeats.

Entering this season expectations were high for fifth-year senior Gardner under Nussmeier’s new scheme. He and receiver Devin Funchess appeared to be poised for a historic breakout season. Against Appalachian State the duo appeared unstoppable, hooking up for three touchdowns in the first half alone.

But Notre Dame has better coaching and better athletes than Appalachian State, and its overall team speed overwhelmed Michigan.

Now, Hoke needs to evaluate whether Gardner can lead the Wolverines to success this season or if it’s time to switch quarterbacks. Gardner is a respected leader of the team, but entering his second full season as a starter, his flaws may be too much to overcome.

Hoke also needs to take a hard look at his offensive line and consider how to better protect whoever plays quarterback. The offensive line’s lack of development has been a stunning failure under his tenure.

The excuses are running out for Hoke.

He needs to beat Michigan State or Ohio State this season to show that his program is moving forward.

If he can't then Michigan is settling for mediocrity and in danger of being lapped by its rivals.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand.

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@PSCallihan

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

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Virginia Tech Football: Hokies Defense Makes Strong Statement to Rest of ACC

J.T. Barrett got the message. 

The rest of the ACC better take notice. 

The Virginia Tech Hokies, coming off two subpar seasons by traditional Frank Beamer standards, made perhaps the biggest statement south of the Mason-Dixon line on Saturday with its 35-21 upset of the Ohio State Buckeyes. 

What led the Hokies over Urban Meyer and Co.? Well, the fact that Braxton Miller wasn't suited up surely played a part of it. 

But not even the most mobile of quarterbacks could've escaped the relentless, suffocating pressure that the Hokies put on Barrett throughout the night. Barrett was the victim of seven sacks—six of them in the second half and three on the Buckeyes' penultimate drive, which ended in Hokies defensive back Donovan Riley taking an interception to the house and sealing the game. 

Barrett was also picked off three times by the Virginia Tech secondary. As a whole, the Hokies held the Buckeyes to just 4-of-16 on third-down conversions and just 2.7 yards per rush attempt. Barrett also completed just 9-of-29 passing attempts. 

There's no other way to put it: Virginia Tech locked down Ohio State—all night. 

And now with only one game against a ranked team—No. 21 North Carolina on October 4—left on its schedule, Virginia Tech may very well be a dark horse to not only dethrone Florida State as the ACC champion but an under-the-radar contender for the College Football Playoff. 

Beamer Ball is in full effect in 2014, and that is nothing but great news to fans in Blacksburg who suffered through a 7-6 season in 2012 and an 8-5 one last year. 

Riley's pick six to ice the game away was the epitome of Beamer Ball. The best teams under Beamer have always been terrific at scoring points, keeping their opponent off the board and finding ways to win by any means necessary. 

And it's guys like Kyshoen Jarrett, a rover linebacker who made two interceptions on Saturday night, that make the system work. Jarrett is a jack of all trades, having done everything in his career with the Hokies from pick off quarterbacks to returning punts. 

It's guys like Dadi Nicolas and Derek Di Nardo, who each recorded two sacks against the Buckeyes, that have revitalized the Hokies' defense. 

After two below-average seasons, there was a growing suspicion that Beamer—the longest tenured coach in college football—was on the hot seat. 

Not anymore. Virginia Tech proved on Saturday night that they are back, and their message was delivered loud and clear. 

Just ask Barrett. 

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Should Pat Haden Resign from the College Football Playoff Committee?

USC athletic director Pat Haden was down on the field during the game to discuss an incident on the sideline. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss if Haden's position on the College Football Playoff committee is a conflict of interest. What do you think?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Should Pat Haden Resign from the College Football Playoff Committee?

USC athletic director Pat Haden was down on the field during the game to discuss an incident on the sideline...

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Kenny Hill vs. Lamar: Stats, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

By the end of the 2014-15 season, Kenny Hill hopes to be known on his own terms, rather than simply as Johnny Manziel's successor at Texas A&M. He got a jump-start down that road when he led the Aggies to a record-setting 52-28 win over South Carolina in Week 1, and he continued his dominance against Lamar Saturday. 

Against the Gamecocks, Hill set a school record with 511 passing yards and became just the sixth player in SEC history to throw for 500-plus yards in a game. Despite his impressive performance, coach Kevin Sumlin still thinks he can do better. 

"He's got a lot of things to work on," Sumlin said, via The Associated Press. "His eyes are too much all over the place, but he was able to get past it the other night. He took care of the ball except for a couple times."

Hill appeased his coach with his performance against Lamar, leading the team to a solid 28-point lead in the first half before Sumlin sat him with 4:52 to go in the second quarter due to the large lead. But Hill was back out on the first possession of the second half, adding to the point total on the first drive.  

Hill wasted no time coming out strong versus the Cardinals despite a lightning delay that lasted two hours and five minutes. On his first play from scrimmage, he connected with Speedy Noil for a 44-yard strike down the middle of the field, taking advantage of a one-high safety look from the Cardinals. 

Kate Hairopoulos of The Dallas Morning News provided comments on Hill starting fast out of the gate. 

Hill's first two connections with Noil and Josh Reynolds set up a Trey Williams 33-yard touchdown run, demonstrating how adept the sophomore is at marching the offense down the field and orchestrating scoring drives. 

Of the Aggies' 12 drives in Week 1 with Hill at the helm, only two ended in punts.

After a brief stumble on his second drive when he fumbled the snap and recovered it, Hill got back on track quickly with a 24-yard toss to Ricky Seals-Jones for a touchdown.

The efficient 63-yard drive took just 2:05 off the clock.

For the third consecutive scoring drive he led and his second touchdown pass of the night, Hill rolled out to his left and threw across his body to find Sabian Holmes for a 51-yard score in a drive that took just 59 seconds.

Hill established a momentum early on that Lamar just couldn't slow. As Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle noted, the rout began early. 

At the end of the first quarter, Hill was 8-of-10 for 173 yards and two touchdowns, getting multiple weapons involved in the passing game, as Texas A&M's student newspaper The Battalion noted. NThose receivers were Noil, Holmes, Seals-Jones, Reynolds, Edward Pope and Malcome Kennedy. 

If there were any criticisms of Hill, one was that he needed to improve his touch on his deep attempts. As Greg McElroy said on the SEC Network broadcast, there were a couple of attempts on which Hill "put too much mustard on that dog."

Hill had two incompletions that sailed high to start the second quarter after going 8-of-10 in the first, but it was hard to nitpick about that when he connected with Pope for his third touchdown of the night. 

In the second quarter, with the rout well underway, Coach Sumlin pulled Hill and Kyle Allen made his first appearance for the Aggies. Hill ended the first half 12-of-16 for 233 yards and three touchdowns. 

Somewhat surprisingly, Sumlin brought Hill back out to start the second half after most thought his night was over, including ESPN's Sam Khan Jr. Allen's interception late in the second quarter may have factored into the decision.

Hill got right back to work to start the second half, throwing his fourth touchdown pass of the night behind the No. 2 offensive line. 

McElroy noted in the SEC Network broadcast that the reason Sumlin may have kept Hill in the game late into the third quarter was so that the Aggies could continue to practice the uptempo offense. But after he took a scary low hit and had his first drive to end in a punt after a few incomplete passes that sailed high, perhaps he shouldn't have. 

Howard Chen of CSN Houston remarked on how rare an occurrence it has been for Hill to lead a drive that doesn't end in a score. 

Midway through the third quarter, Hill came out for the second and final time. Jimmy Burch shared his impressive final stat line:

Hill proved in the decreased minutes he got Saturday that his emergence onto the NCAA stage with his record-breaking performance against South Carolina was no fluke. But he won't be climbing up any Heisman watch lists if Sumlin continues to pull him in games. 

Sumlin reportedly wants Hill to avoid Johnny Manziel-like exposure. NFL.com college football writer Chase Goodbread revealed that Sumlin told Hill not to have his photograph taken with fans.

While it no doubt can only help Hill to keep a lower media profile than his predecessor, he's playing at an incredibly high level, and his popularity will only continue to grow. 

Sumlin can shorten his playing time and try to keep him out of the spotlight, but the fans are excited about Hill and, if he can get enough playing time on the field, Heisman voters likely will be as well. 

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Florida State Football: Depth Will Prove Invaluable as Season Moves Along

Florida State often puts points on the board with players like Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene and Karlos Williams. And the Seminoles have one of the nation's top defenses because of Jalen Ramsey and Mario Edwards Jr.

But FSU often wins games with depth and talent stockpiled from top recruiting classes that coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff have assembled. FSU's 2013 class was ranked 12th in the nation and the 2014 class was ranked third.

No. 1 FSU routed The Citadel 37-12 and Winston was accurate, completing 22-of-27 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns (in just under three quarters). But a week after he focused in on Greene for 11 of his 25 completions in a 37-31 win over Oklahoma State, Winston spread the ball around to eight receivers.

He connected with sophomore Jesus "Bobo" Wilson for three receptions and a touchdown. True freshman Ermon Lane caught three passes for 37 yards. Sophomore fullback Freddie Stevenson had two more receptions and true freshman Ja'Vonn Harrison had his first college catch.

True freshman Dalvin Cook, Florida's Mr. Football in 2013, led the Seminoles in carries (13) and rushing yards (67) on Saturday in his first college game.

"For his first time out there, you can see the talent and see the ability," Fisher said. "Guy's going to be one heck of a football player."

Freshmen and sophomores. They provided significant performances in the big picture. Not just on Saturday night, in dispatching an overmatched Football Championship Series team. But for the long haul, which is both the rest of the season and in 2015—when many will be competing for starting jobs.

Fisher coined the phrase last year—"Play don't care who makes it." And it's a mantra that all of the players, from the redshirt seniors to the true freshmen, have embraced.

Even the seniors know how important the new kids are to FSU's success and the Seminoles' attempt to repeat as national champions.

"I remember back when I first started playing on defense—I was very unsure of myself," senior left tackle Cameron Erving said. "I'm sure you've heard coach Fisher say it once if you haven't heard him say it twice: The development of this team depends on how fast these young guys can develop and create depth."

Wilson traveled to FSU's season opener against Oklahoma State but, in a motivational move by Fisher, made sure that the receiver would suffer from the sideline by watching his teammates play. He was suspended for the season opener after he reached a plea deal stemming from his theft of a motor scooter in June.

Watching the Oklahoma State game in person was the ultimate punishment. On Saturday, Wilson made the most of his playing time.

"I overcame a lot of adversity," Wilson said. "It just felt great being back out with my brothers. Catching a touchdown pass from Jameis—he told me he was going to get me one."

The most concerning part of the win is the unknown. FSU lost three defensive tackles—Eddie Goldman, Justin Shanks and Nile Lawrence-Stample—to leg injuries. Goldman was injured on the first drive and out for the game. Shanks was gone on the second drive. And Lawrence-Stample later on.

It's a tremendous blow to FSU if any of the three are not able to play in the next game, on Sept. 20 when the Seminoles host Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener. When defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan left for the NFL after his junior season, it made that position a priority to find young prospects who could not necessarily fill his shoes but learn on the fly and develop into the next generation of stars.

True freshman Derrick Nnadi emerged on Saturday, seeing playing time and making three tackles. Redshirt freshman Keith Bryant had two tackles.

Who knows what their role is moving forward but, if any of the injuries to the upperclassmen are severe, they're going to be part of the rotation at defensive tackle.

"Everybody's getting out there, getting their feet wet," Ramsey said. "That's important because we'll need them later on in the season. The young guys getting experience is really good for us."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Marcus Mariota, Oregon Finally Shed Soft Label in Demolition of Michigan State

EUGENE, Ore.—They’ve been called soft. It's been said they’re all flash and no substance. Perhaps 46-27 will change those perceptions. 

Tonight is a night to remember in Eugene, Ore. Tonight is the night Marcus Mariota—Heisman hopeful, became Marcus Mariota—unquestioned leader of men. Mariota didn’t just remove the “soft” label from Oregon’s biography.

He incinerated it.

The Oregon Ducks stared their flaws right in the face against Michigan State. They couldn’t run the ball against a top-tier defense. They were down by nine points in the third quarter. They looked like their were going to wilt in front of our eyes like they’ve done before. Ducks fans had nightmarish flashbacks to losses against Stanford, Arizona, LSU and Auburn.

However, there were no nightmares on Saturday night in Eugene for the Ducks or the Autzen Stadium faithful. They stared down their deficiencies, acknowledged them and decided to flip the script. The Ducks proved that they’re not only a legitimate national championship contender, but that they’re tough and mentally strong, words rarely used when describing Ducks football.

The Ducks and Spartans both got off to slow starts, typical in a game with this much on the line. However, the Ducks got their first crack at the end zone following an Erick Dargan pick late in the first quarter. Oregon got down to the 3-yard line, due to a targeting penalty, and failed to cross the goal line on three consecutive plays.

Failing inside the red zone, a part of the field that demands toughness and strength from an offense, has been a problem for Oregon in the “blur” offense era. However, Ducks running back Thomas Tyner finally scored in the fourth-down situation above on a one-yard run, and the Ducks took an 8-0 lead after a two-point conversion.

That fourth-down run may not have looked like a turning point in the game, especially considering the Ducks were down 27-18 in the third quarter, but it signaled a change in mentality for these previously “soft” Ducks.

In previous years the Ducks failed to score from inside the 5-yard line in big games, most notably against Stanford in 2013 and versus Auburn in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.

Today was different. While it took four tries, the Ducks lowered their heads and fought for that one extra inch. They got it. Tony D’Amato would be proud. It was a momentum shift in the game and for the program. Maybe Mark Helfrich’s “blue collar” theme has gotten through to his players.

The Ducks looked strong early, grabbing an 18-7 lead following a gorgeous 70-yard catch and run touchdown by freshman wide receiver Devon Allen, whom Helfich during his postgame press conference called a “stud." Indeed, he is. He ended the night with three receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

From that point until the middle of the third quarter something changed. The Ducks looked like a lost team. The Spartans, led by quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford, took advantage of Oregon’s shaky defense and racked up 20 straight points. At half, the Ducks, stunningly, were down 24-18.

You could hear a pin drop at Autzen Stadium. 

The Ducks, and their fans, have all suffered through the kind of play that characterized much of the second quarter. Oregon couldn't get anything going. Their defense couldn't figure out the opponent. They were in a hole. It felt familiar and awful. The fans expected a second half filled with despair. 

But something happened at halftime.

Mark Helfrich’s halftime speech, which he called ““Gettysburg Addressish”, must have really been something. What happened after halftime should define the Oregon program going forward and dispel the idea that the Ducks are “soft."

After the Spartans kicked a field goal with 10:55 left in the third quarter, which increased the Michigan State lead to nine, the Ducks stepped up and took over. Oregon rattled off 28 straight points and rightfully took their place as one of, if not the, best football teams in the nation.

While the Ducks defense played much better in the second half, the real reason for the team's change in mentality was quarterback Marcus Mariota.

While Mariota will never admit it, he was furious. You could see it in his play. In the second half against Michigan State, Mariota simply decided to lead by example and expected his teammates to follow. He refused to allow the Ducks to go down without a fight. Not only did the team follow his lead, the entire stadium did.

The play of the game, and the play that changed the course of the game, was a Mariota escape, something he did a lot of tonight, and flip to Tyner for a first down. When asked about that play, Helfrich said, “Unbelievable. I should have to pay to watch that guy (Mariota) play.” Mariota would go on to throw his second touchdown of the game to Devon Allen, and the Ducks were suddenly down by just two points, 27-25.

Not only did that play represent a massive momentum shift, it may be Mariota's Heisman moment. It's certainly worthy. Without that play the Ducks would have been forced to punt, again, to Michigan State, who was already leading by nine. Without that play maybe the Spartans run the ball down the Ducks' throats, take a 16-point lead and bleed time off the clock—all of which would have been a crushing blow. Instead, the Ducks narrowed the deficit and stole the momentum. 

Once the Ducks had the momentum, it was game over. Mariota, who finished 17 of 28 for 318 yards and three touchdowns, simply wouldn’t let the Ducks lose. Perhaps the Ducks identity as soft won’t go away quietly into the night. It could always be lurking. However, as long as Mariota is running the show you can bet he’s not going to let Oregon be a pushover.

The Ducks proved tonight that they could hang in the ring with any team in the country. Speaking after the game, Helfrich said, “We took a couple of haymakers and kept playing. I’m very proud of that...That’s an exceptional team. They’re great in every phase and it was a really good bout."

This was an exceptional result for the Ducks, who likely won’t face a defense as tough as the Spartans until Nov. 1 when Stanford comes calling. Oregon took a couple of solid punches—one’s that would have knocked them down in previous years—and kept playing. They proved to the nation that they’re not scared of anything or anyone this year.

They also proved it to themselves.

Yes, there are concerns for the Ducks going forward. Oregon’s defense only allowed three points combined in the first, third, and fourth quarters. However, they allowed 24 points in the second period. What happened? I’m not even sure the Ducks themselves know, but it’s something that must be addressed before Oregon gets into its Pac-12 schedule.

There also have to be concerns about Oregon’s offensive line and running game, which was parked in neutral for the most part by Michigan State’s defense, and about the offensive line. Starting right tackle Andre Yruretagoyena, who replaced Tyler Johnstone in the starting lineup, left the field with an apparently leg injury early in the third quarter. He was carted off, and it’s likely he’s going to miss a significant part of the season, if not the rest of the year.

Without Johnstone and Yruretagoyena, the offensive line becomes even thinner. In fact, the Ducks were forced to use true freshman Tyrell Crosby in relief of Yruretagoyena. Needless to say, the Ducks are going to need their reserve offensive lineman to step up in a big way.

But those concerns are for Monday. Tonight is a night to remember the new, tough Ducks. 

 

Follow Jason Gold on twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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Marcus Mariota, Oregon Finally Shed Soft Label in Demolition of Michigan State

EUGENE, Ore.—They’ ve been called soft. It's been said they’re all flash and no substance. Perhaps 46-27 will change those perceptions. Tonight is a night to remember in Eugene, Ore...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Pat Haden's Outburst Compromises Integrity of College Football Playoff Committee

When USC athletic director Pat Haden went on the field to argue with game officials Saturday, he made it obvious he should be taken off the committee that will decide which four teams play for this year's national championship.

Haden's ridiculous decision to thrust himself onto center stage during a game also pulled the plug on the theory that he's the bright light who will lead Trojan athletics out of its self-inflicted dark ages.

But the worst part of Haden going onto the field during the USC-Stanford game to argue a call is that he also seriously compromised the integrity of the College Football Playoff selection committee, of which he is a member, that will determine the four teams that play for this season's national championship.

If Haden can't exert enough self-control to let Pac-12 referees do their job at a Week 2 game, how can he be trusted to cast a fair and objective vote for this season's history-making playoff?

Going after the refs demonstrated that it's reasonable to suspect Haden can't put aside his biases and passions. If he can't control the hair trigger on his emotions in a packed stadium during a nationally televised game, how will he behave when the committee meets in private? If you were the coach of another Pac-12 team, would you trust him?

USC coach Steve Sarkisian became upset when Trojans linebacker Hayes Pullard was ejected for a hit on Stanford's Ty Montgomery on a kickoff.

For the record, ABC's Kirk Herbstreit referenced the hit on-air as a "textbook" example of targeting. Sarkisian's animated complaints led to an unsportsmanlike penalty on the coach, which is what inspired Haden's ill-fated decision to leave his press-box seat and head to the field.

Also for the record: Sarkisian flat-out admitted after the game that he deserved the unsportsmanlike penalty, because he was arguing while straying too far from the sideline.

As reported by Heather Dinich of ESPN.com, Sarkisian said: "Obviously I had gotten an unsportsmanlike penalty, and I was incorrect. You can't be in the white at any time, and I was in the white on the field goal. At the time I vehemently disagreed with the call, but by the letter of the law I was incorrect."

Once on the field, Haden went nose-to-nose with the officiating crew. It was a move straight out of Bobby Knight's playbook, minus the thrown chair.

For those who missed it, here's how Haden blew the lid off this can of worms in the third quarter of USC's victory:

Athletic directors simply aren't supposed to attempt to sort out on-field controversies during play. As a former quarterback who played on two national championship teams at USC, Haden should know that.

The man also has a law degree, which, along with his Rhodes Scholarship, no doubt played a role in him being named to a committee that will be heavily scrutinized.

Haden had one chance to rescue the situation, but he managed to blow that as well.

After his fruitless argument with game officials ended, he was interviewed on the field by ABC and made no effort to apologize.

Instead, he explained he had received a text from a USC staff member saying Sarkisian wanted him to come on down. (And boy, wouldn't it be great if all of us could blame all of our transgressions on text messages that led us astray?)

Then Haden compounded that ridiculousness by making a not-at-all-funny joke about how referees never give good explanations about their decisions.

That was just one more terrible move.

Taking cheap shots at referees on national television won't help distance the USC football program from last week's fairy tale about defensive back Josh Shaw injuring himself while supposedly making like Superman and leaping from two stories up to rescue a drowning nephew.

And, having gone through a week of controversy regarding Shaw, one would think Haden would have been more protective than ever with USC's image on Saturday.

Apparently Haden didn't learn much from the Lane Kiffin years. And the really sad thing is that his antics detracted and distracted from a memorable performance by USC's football team. The Trojans were outplayed in many respects by Stanford on Saturday, yet they held on for a clutch road victory by virtue of repeated defensive stands in the red zone.

But that 13-10 survival probably isn't what will dominate conversations about USC athletics in the coming week.

Instead, the playoff committee figures to face pressure to oust Haden as one of the 13 people who will select the playoff teams. Haden is supposed to represent the Pac-12, but now it's reasonable to question whether he could give Stanford objective consideration if it wins out and gets in the hunt.

Would he sabotage Oregon if the Ducks lay claim to Pac-12 supremacy? And how can Haden possibly be expected to give fair consideration to crosstown rival UCLA if the Bruins are on the bubble for selection?

There's obvious concern, as is evidenced by this SI.com tweet, about the reaction from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott:

And USA Today's Dan Wolken already has issued a call for Haden's resignation and adds that if Haden doesn't step down, "the 10 commissioners of the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences should intervene and demand a change."

I totally agree. This is the first year of the four-team playoff, and the scrutiny of committee members will be akin to how the FBI treats suspected felons.

The playoff is a great thing for all of those followers of college football who have begged for a less restrictive way to decide the national title, me included. Getting off to a fuzzy start is the last thing college football needs, and Haden should recognize that.

And if he has trouble understanding that simple fact, perhaps we all can text him.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Marcus Mariota Shakes Big Game Demons, Tightens Grip on Heisman

Marcus Mariota had not one but two Heisman moments in Saturday's win over Michigan State, and although he didn't win the game in the last minute or hurdle a defender or even find the end zone on either of them, they might have been the two biggest plays of the weekend.

With his team, Oregon, on the ropes against a defense that some have called the best in the country, Mariota converted a pair of 3rd-and-longs on consecutive possessions that eventually led to touchdowns. And he converted them on plays that he—just like any other mere mortal—had no business converting.

First, with the Ducks trailing 27-18 in the third quarter and momentum squarely in MSU's camp, Mariota felt the pocket collapsing on 3rd-and-10 from his 41. Instead of eating the ball and taking the sack, though, he sidestepped out of it, made another two defenders miss, then shoveled an off-balance pass to freshman running back Royce Freeman for 17 yards and a first down:

Oregon would score five plays later on a 24-yard pass from Mariota to Devon Allen, cutting the lead to 27-25.

Then, after a Michigan State three-and-out, Oregon got the ball back and faced a 3rd-and-9 from roughly the same spot as Mariota's last big play, its own 42-yard line. This time—albeit with the benefit of a dubious non-holding call—he turned the corner on four Spartans defenders, all of whom appeared to have a pursuit angle, and picked up the first down on his own with an 11-yard scamper.

Oregon would score four plays later on a 37-yard pass from Mariota to Keanon Lowe, taking the lead for good, 32-27.

All in all, Mariota finished with a line most quarterbacks would dare not even dream of against Michigan State: 17-of-28 completions for 318 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He added nine carries for 42 yards. His team gained 491 yards and hung 46 points on a defense that allowed an average of 252 and 13.2 last season.

Crazier still, he did it behind an offensive line that was overmatched, quite often, by Michigan State's front seven, conjuring plays from thin air despite a pocket that was caving in around him.

All of this—the stat line, the timing and the context—combined to earn him a glowing review from CBS Sports' Rob Rang:

It wasn't just physical talent that will have NFL scouts attending this game taking notice. Mariota and the Ducks showed composure and resiliency against the Spartans, coming back to score 28 unanswered points in the second half after facing a 24-18 halftime deficit. Mariota played his best as the game tightened, completing passes requiring velocity, touch and accuracy and frequently buying time with his legs.

Mariota needed this after the way his season ended in 2013.

Playing on a sprained MCL, his Heisman campaign petered out in vivid fashion: a 26-20 loss to his archrival, Stanford. Oregon did not score until the 50th minute of that game, and after a 16-point output in a loss at Arizona two weeks later, Mariota's stock fell so far that he wasn't even invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York.

Michigan State's defense has been likened to Stanford's, and although such comparisons are reductive (at best), watching Mariota rise to the occasion against a big, angry, physical front seven and an aggressive secondary felt extra important.

Those are things that Oregon's offense (read: Mariota) is "supposed" to be incapable of beating.

(Again: 491 yards and 46 points.)

"We think we're physical," said head coach Mark Helfrich after the game, per Bryan Fischer of NFL.com. "I'm sure we'll still get those questions though."

Fair or not, Helfrich is right.

Until Mariota proves he can beat—and better yet, look good against—Stanford, he and his team will continue facing questions about toughness. One would think they drove a stake into such criticisms Saturday, but it won't be long until the "do it against a non-Big Ten team" arguments begin to crop up.

But those arguments will only crop-up from the mouths of the uninformed, and so will the questions about Oregon and Mariota's toughness. Because Big Ten team or not, only the uninformed would question what Michigan State's defense is capable of. Even in allowing 46 points Saturday, there were times when it looked plenty good. There were just more times when Mariota looked better.

And that, folks, is how you go from "one of the Heisman favorites" to the unabashed Heisman frontrunner.

It's officially his trophy to lose.

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Marcus Mariota Shakes Big Game Demons, Tightens Grip on Heisman

Marcus Mariota had not one but two Heisman moments in Saturday's win over Michigan State, and although he didn't win the game in the last minute or hurdle a defender or even ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

LSU Football: Tigers' RB Leonard Fournette's Heisman Pose an Embarrassment

What in the Hell was Leonard Fournette thinking?

Did Fournette really celebrate his first career touchdown with a Heisman pose against Sam Houston State?

Maybe Fournette will be right. Maybe he can just see what none of the rest of us can. Maybe he will lift that bronze statue one day.

But seriously, what in the Hell was he thinking?

LSU head coach Les Miles was not thrilled. Once the prized 5-star recruit hit the sidelines, he chewed him out.

"This is about a team and about what we're trying to get accomplished, and I just needed him to understand that," Miles said to SEC Network sideline reporter Maria Taylor at halftime.

He reiterated the same sentiment in his postgame press conference.

Good for Miles.

ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit was also bothered by Fournette's self-serving celebration.

Right on, Herbie.

Fournette would not score again. He finished the night with 92 yards rushing on 13 carries to go along with 32 yards receiving. Those numbers against Sam Houston State are nothing to brag about.

Fournette has done nothing to prove he is worthy of the most prestigious award in college football. He is not even a top-10 candidate on his own team.

Amidst all the hype surrounding "Buga Nation," LSU's coaches and players have raved about his work ethic and humility. One empty-minded moment does not discount that, but it does put them in an awkward position to answer questions about it.

The Heisman pose also does not discount a dominant performance from LSU. The Tigers defeated the Bearkats 56-0, which included first career touchdowns from fellow freshmen Brandon Harris, Malachi Dupre and Darrel Williams.

Miles and LSU's upperclassmen will likely have a few more words for Fournette. He will learn from his mistake and the team will move on just fine.

But seriously, what was Fournette thinking?

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting ratings courtesy of 247Sports. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Michigan State vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for Spartans, Ducks

After being down 27-18 early in the third quarter, the Oregon Ducks scored 28 unanswered points en route to a 46-27 victory over the visiting Michigan State Spartans.

Although the score was 24-18 in favor of MSU at halftime, the Spartans outplayed the Ducks thoroughly in the first half. Michigan State's defensive line shut down the vaunted Oregon rush attack, allowing only 13 yards on the ground in the first half. 

Quarterback Connor Cook also looked sharp, hitting receivers with little difficulty. However, Oregon's defense stiffened and forced Cook into some nervy situations. The Michigan State signal-caller did throw for 343 yards, but he also threw two interceptions—with one occurring in the red zone. 

Oregon signal-caller Marcus Mariota led the charge in the second half. He finished 17-of-28 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 42 yards on nine carries. 

Check out first-half and final grades for both the Spartans and the Ducks. Additional analysis for different position units will also be addressed.

Final stats from the game can be found here at NCAA.com.

 

Michigan State Spartans Game Grades

Pass Offense: Cook was very good early, and for the duration of the first half. He was afforded the time to sit back and hit open receivers on crossing routes. Cook was also clinical on out routes, exploiting the perimeter of the field. 

In the second half, Oregon brought considerable pressure. As a result, his eyes dropped and was not able to look down the field for his targets. He threw two ill-advised passes into coverage, which both resulted in interceptions. 

On the night, the Michigan State quarterback finished a respectable 29-of-47 for 343 yards and two touchdowns.

 

Run Offense: MSU had moderate success in the first half with Jeremy Langford. The productivity in the passing game allowed for the Spartans to take advantage of Oregon's nickel package on the ground. Langford had a 16-yard touchdown scamper early in the second quarter.

In the second half, MSU virtually abandoned the running game in order to keep up with the Oregon offensive onslaught. Oregon's defense began to blitz with much frequency, and thus the running lanes dried up.  

On the night, Michigan State ran for 123 yards on 36 carries. This averages out to a paltry 3.4 yards per carry. 

 

Pass Defense: This was the worst unit on the night for the Spartans. If there was a problem area in the first half, it was the secondary. Blown coverages led to a 70-yard touchdown by Devon Allen, and a 64-yard reception by Darren Carrington. 

The second half was no different. Long touchdown throws to Allen and Keanon Lowe really got Oregon's offense rolling. Surprisingly, stud safety Kurtis Drummond had a poor game. At times, he was confused by the Ducks motion on offense. 

 

Run Defense: The Spartans played lights out in the first half. Oregon was only able to accrue 13 yards on 13 carries. The defensive line also sacked Mariota three times in the first half, and rendered the zone-read element to Oregon's offense useless. Not only did the defensive line get consistent pressure, but the linebackers did an excellent job of clogging the running lanes. 

In the second half, Oregon's offense got into a rhythm. The pace of the game picked up considerably. As a result, the MSU defense wore down a bit. Oregon finished the evening with 173 yards on 40 carries for a 4.3 yards-per-carry average. 

All in all, it was a valiant effort by the Michigan State front seven. 

 

Special Teams: A solid grade across the board for this unit. R.J. Shelton had a 59-yard kickoff return in the second half. Kicker Michael Geiger connected on both of his field goal attempts. 

Perhaps most importantly, the Spartans kept Oregon's explosive return game at bay. 

 

Coaching: Dantonio completely outschemed Mark Helfrich and the Oregon staff in the first half. Outside of two big passing plays, the Ducks offense was completely stagnant. Cook had full command of the offense, and the play-calling had a nice mix of the run and pass. 

In the second half, it felt as if MSU abandoned the run game a bit too easily. Cook was throwing more on first and second down, enabling Oregon to bring pressure. Traditionally speaking, Michigan State uses the running game to set up the passing attack. This scenario didn't play itself out this evening. 

 

Oregon Ducks Game Grades

Pass Offense: Oregon's offense was jump-started by two big passing plays in the first half—a 70-yard touchdown to Devon Allen and a 64-yard reception by Darren Carrington. Outside of these two plays, the passing attack wasn't overly impressive. The pressure by Michigan State's defensive line didn't allow for Mariota to get into any sort of rhythm. 

In the second half, Mariota used his legs to buy time in the pocket. This allowed him to keep his eyes downfield. He found Allen for another touchdown in the second half, and also found a streaking Keanon Lowe for a 37-yard touchdown strike. As the pressure lessened, Mariota's effectiveness in the passing game grew. 

 

Run Offense: Oregon's offensive line was getting blasted off of the ball in the first half by Michigan State's defensive line. The running backs had little in the way of running room. It was shocking to see Oregon rush for only 13 yards on 13 carries in the first half. 

Royce Freeman was the catalyst in the second half. The freshman back rushed the ball 13 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns. He was easily the most productive back on the night. MSU then had to account for Mariota's success in the air. As a result, Oregon was able to run the ball with more effectiveness. The unit as a whole finished with 173 yards on 40 carries.

 

Pass Defense: Michigan State had a lot of success early in the contest on throws over the middle. Cook was surgical at times in finding soft spots in the Oregon zone. Not to pick on anyone, but Dior Mathis did not have a great day. MSU wide receiver Tony Lippett beat him multiple times on moves after the catch. 

In the second half, the pressure up front aided greatly in clamping down on the Spartans passing game. Two bright spots came in the form of Erick Dargan's interception in the first half, and the incredibly athletic interception made by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in the second half. 

 

Run Defense: Give credit to Oregon for containing Michigan State's rushing attack. A point of emphasis during the offseason was to get stronger and bigger up front on both sides of the ball. A noticeably bigger-looking Oregon defensive line played with an impressive physicality.

Arik Armstead and Joe Walker in particular excelled. Armstead was practically living in MSU's backfield during the second half. Walker attacked the line of scrimmage impressively, and had multiple tackles for loss on Langford. The Ducks held Michigan State to 123 yards on 36 carries (3.4 yards per carry).

 

Special Teams: Matt Wogan nailed his lone field-goal attempt. The wrinkle on the extra-point attempt proved to work, as holder (and backup quarterback) Taylor Alie threw a pass to starting defensive end DeForest Buckner for a two-point conversion following the first touchdown of the game.  

Both Allen and Ekpre-Olomu were solid in the return game.

 

Coaching: Adjustments needed to be made after a poor first half. Helfrich and his staff was considerably outcoached on both sides of the ball during the first 30 minutes. Oregon wasn't pressuring Cook, and the offense looked surprisingly vanilla. 

The play-calling in the second half became much more diversified. Oregon began attacking the heart of the field with its passing game. Helfrich was able to push the tempo to Oregon's high-octane level, and it began to wear out the Michigan State defense. 

Defensively, new coordinator Don Pellum dialed up exotic looks. Pressures came from different parts of the formation, and it confused the Michigan State signal-caller.

Unlike in the first half, Cook was unable to stand comfortably in the pocket and deliver throws down the field. The Oregon defense allowed only three points in the second half. It was a huge reason as to why Oregon's offense got into a rhythm. 

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Michigan State vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for Spartans, Ducks

After being down 27-18 early in the third quarter, the Oregon Ducks scored 28 unanswered points en route to a 46-27 victory over the visiting Michigan State Spartans...

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