NCAA Football

Arizona Wildcats Cap Amazing Comeback with Last-Second Hail Mary

Arizona mounted a huge comeback Saturday, scoring 36 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Cal Bears 49-45.

The Wildcats won the game on a last-second, 47-yard heave from quarterback Anu Solomon that was pulled in by Austin Hill in the end zone.

Was this the best play of a crazy day in college football? Let us know in the comments.

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College Football Playoff Projections After Survival Saturday

Week 4 saw another slate of wild football as the nation's top two teams survived some scares but ultimately prevailed. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer predicts who he thinks will be in the four-team playoff following their performances this week. 

Who do you think should be in?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 4

College Football's Week 4 saw many great individual performances with the top players in the country making their case for the Heisman Trophy

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee breaks down his rankings for the Heisman Trophy. 

Who do you think is the front-runner for the award?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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College Football Rankings Week 4: B/R's Official Top 25

No team is safe.

On a week where nearly every top team in college football trailed at some point during their games, some of them ultimately losing, the overall result was utter chaos to the Bleacher Report's Top 25 poll. Hardly any teams remain in the same place they were a week ago, and the claim to the top spot is almost as muddied as any other place in the rankings.

How crazy is it? Four different schools garnered first-place votes after Week 4's action, and the difference between first and third place in the ranking was a mere nine points.

This week's Bleacher Report Top 25 was voted on by 17 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen and Marc Torrence, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

Each voter submits his or her ballot based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th. And then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 4 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 4

The 2014 college football season has occurred on a gradual incline, starting strong in Week 1 and getting better and better each weekend.

Week 4 did not deviate from that trend, beginning with a wild all-ranked affair between Kansas State and Auburn on Thursday and ending with a Hail Mary by Arizona to beat Cal in the desert. Everything that happened between constituted the best slate of games we've seen so far this season.

Reigning No. 1 Florida State held on to beat Clemson without Jameis Winston, but will that be enough to retain the top spot? Does it matter that, per to Dan Wolken of USA TodayJimbo Fisher confirmed Winston would "be [the team's] quarterback on Monday"?

Here's a stab at predicting the Week 5 Associated Press rankings:

Fun Facts

•If Alabama indeed climbs to No. 1 in the poll—which is, of course, not certain—this would be the seventh consecutive season where the Crimson Tide have held that spot for at least one week.

•By contrast, East Carolina, which is projected to enter the AP top 25, would be doing so for the first time since 2008, when it started the year with wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia. The Pirates have only been ranked in three seasons between 1984-2013.

 

Teams Rising

Mississippi State

Dak Prescott announced himself to the college football world last season.

He announced himself to the sporting world at large Saturday evening.

The built-like-a-tight-end quarterback played like a Heisman contender in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, leading Mississippi State to a 34-29 win over LSU. Head coach Dan Mullen orchestrated a masterpiece of playcalling, hitting LSU where it was weakest (up the middle) and mixing in some well-timed chances down the field. 

A near-collapse in the fourth quarter is not enough to discredit that.

 

East Carolina

The Pirates' win at Virginia Tech looks a little worse now that the Hokies lost to Georgia Tech on the same field.

However, Ruffin McNeil's team took its ranking fate into its own hands, beating North Carolina 70-41. The Tar Heels were antsy for revenge after what they thought was an embarrassing margin of defeat—55-31—in 2013, but instead, they found even worse humiliation.

Like Central Florida last season, ECU lost a close road game at South Carolina but appears to be the best group-of-five team in the country. Marshall is neck-and-neck with it for that title, but the Thundering Herd are docked points for not having played anybody. 

 

Nebraska

Nebraska wasn't perfect against Miami, but it was good enough to beat a viable opponent, which is all that matters in September.

Running back Ameer Abdullah put the Huskers on his back for the umpteenth time, rushing for 229 yards against an improved Hurricanes run defense. Alex Donno of 560 WQAM summed it up nicely, saying it "could be Abdullah's Heisman game."

As long as Nebraska has the active FBS yardage leader, it will always have a chance to win its game. In a down year for the Big Ten, that could mean a surprising run for Bo Pelini's team.

(It might even lose less than four games.)

 

Teams Falling

Missouri

Indiana beat Missouri on Missouri's home field, 31-27. A few hours earlier, Wisconsin beat Bowling Green, 68-17. Last weekend, Bowling Green beat Indiana, 48-45.

Do with that information what you please.

Missouri lost to a Hoosiers team that isn't altogether bad but definitely isn't good. It's excusable for a ranked team to struggle defending running back Tevin Coleman—it won't be long until a bunch of NFL defenses do the same—but it's not excusable for a ranked team to score 27 points against Indiana's putrid defense. It's just not.

Missouri has a lot of proving to do before it gets back into the poll.

 

LSU

Personnel attrition finally caught up to LSU, which got beat up and down the field—its home field—by Mississippi State.

The Tigers were dominated at the point of attack and had no answer for Prescott, who beat them with his arm and his legs equally. The defensive tackles did not look like they belonged in the SEC, and quarterback Anthony Jennings reverted to his Outback Bowl form.

LSU is a team with no passing offense or run defense, which does not seem to bode well in a stacked SEC West. It's more likely to play spoiler for one of its rivals than it is to compete for a spot in the CFP.

And no, that is not an overreaction.

 

Florida State

The fall won't be huge, but don't be surprised if Florida State checks in at No. 2 behind Alabama Monday morning.

Part of that has nothing to do with the Seminoles. It has to do with a dominant-looking Alabama team that outgained Florida by 400 in the first three quarters of a three-touchdown win. It overcame a trio of turnovers and thoroughly beat a viable team.

Florida State, meanwhile, somehow salvaged victory with Winston on the bench against Clemson. Its form can be forgiven (for not having the reigning Heisman Trophy winner), but the turmoil and distraction of Winston's situation might cede votes. That it's offensive line appears to have forgotten how to block doesn't help.

The Seminoles have not looked like the best team through four weeks.

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Oregon vs. Washington State: Score and Twitter Reaction

Hours after the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles survived a major scare, the No. 2 Oregon Ducks followed suit, getting all they could handle from a Washington State Cougars squad on the road in a 38-31 victory.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was 21-of-25 passing in the victory, throwing for 329 yards and five touchdowns. He added 58 rushing yards on 13 carries. Former Ducks running back LaMichael James believes the star quarterback proved why he's the most outstanding player in the country:

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday matched Mariota stride for stride, finishing with 436 yards in the air and four touchdowns on 43-of-63 passing. His performance was a stark contrast to last year, when he attempted 89 passes and threw four interceptions in a 62-38 loss in Eugene, Oregon.

Washington State head coach Mike Leach approached this game with a completely different mindset. He is considered a mad scientist for his constant tinkering and experimenting on the offensive side of the ball, and he used a unique strategy to keep the Oregon defense on its toes.

At times, the Cougars lined up with seven offensive linemen. By loading up the interior of the field, they forced the Ducks to react accordingly, leaving the defensive backs exposed at times on the outside. You couldn't have imagined a strategy more counter to how Leach built his reputation at Texas Tech:

That formation kept the Oregon coaching staff guessing and in part allowed Wazzu to carve up the Ducks for 499 total yards.

Oregon has one of the most explosive offenses in the country, but that group was missing in action in the first half. While the Ducks were tied with the Cougars going into halftime, that was largely thanks to Mariota rather than the whole of the team. He had 165 yards through the air and three touchdowns at the half.

One of the constants through the first two quarters was how little protection the offensive line was providing Mariota. He was sacked five times despite only attempting 10 passes.

According to Andy McNamara, the assistant athletic director for communications at Oregon, Mariota had never been sacked more than three times in one game:

NFL.com's Bryan Fischer labeled the O-line Oregon's biggest weakness:

Ducks running backs weren't faring much better. Between Byron Marshall, Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner, the trio had 21 yards on the ground, per Smart Football's Chris B. Brown:

Keep in mind that was against a Washington State team giving up on average 174 rushing yards a game, 83rd in the nation.

The Ducks secondary had no answer for Halliday, who went for 261 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone:

CBSSports' Jerry Palm surely wasn't the only person looking at Oregon and wanting more:

Oregon grabbed a 28-21 lead in the third quarter after Mariota hit tight end Pharaoh Brown in the end zone from eight yards out. Mariota set up the score with a 28-yard run on a 4th-and-10 a play earlier.

The two teams exchanged field goals, allowing Oregon to maintain its seven-point lead, 31-24, with 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

Leach's seven-linemen offensive set continued to befuddle the Oregon defense, and Halliday was beating the secondary over the top.

A five-yard touchdown reception from Cougars wideout River Cracraft tied the game with 8:57 to play:

Oregon responded with the only way it knew how: Mariota. He and Lowe connected in the end zone for the second time on the night, giving the Ducks a 38-31 lead. Mariota completed all four of his passes on the nine-play, 79-yard drive.

The Oregon defense got a huge stop on the next drive, forcing a turnover on downs. Ducks linebacker Tony Washington sacked Halliday on a 4th-and-13 with 3:34 to play, all but sealing the victory.

Although they walk out of Pullman, Washington, with the win, the Ducks might slip behind Alabama in The Associated Press Poll as a result of the underwhelming nature of the performance. The Crimson Tide looked great in the second half against Florida earlier in the day, exhibiting the kind of second-half surge some might have expected from Oregon.

The Ducks' playoff hopes don't look to be in any danger, though. Oregon still looks like one of the best teams in the country. One close win against a conference rival on the road doesn't change that.

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Marcus Mariota vs. Washington State: Stat Line, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

The No. 2 Oregon Ducks have a ton of talent, but even they fall into the trap of leaning on their star player. On Saturday night against the Washington State Cougars, they squeezed every ounce out of Marcus Mariota they could.

In the end, it was just enough as the Ducks escaped Martin Stadium with a 38-31 victory to remain undefeated.

Even though Mariota completed 21-of-25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns, he was sacked seven times. He shook off some poor play from his teammates and a spirited performance from the Cougars to guide his team to victory.

In the first half, Mariota was getting little to no support from his offensive line, per Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman:

CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm joked that the Oregon offense had a somewhat repetitive nature:

The running game was also doing little to help the junior star. Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman combined to rush for 21 yards.

Despite that, Mariota finished the first half 7-of-10 passing for 165 yards and three touchdowns. He also had 24 yards rushing, which is all the more impressive when you consider he was sacked five times. Twice Mariota tied the game with touchdown passes, first Devon Allen for 80 yards to make it 7-7 in the first quarter and then connecting with Keanon Lowe in the second to knot it up at 14-14.

Entering Saturday, Mariota sat atop ESPN's Heisman Watch. At the very least, he did little to cede his position.

Although Mariota's numbers weren't as gaudy as his counterpart Connor Halliday (43-of-63 463 yards and four touchdowns), Oregon's win arguably increased his Heisman Trophy stock.

His strong play in a less-than ideal situation speaks volumes about the player he is. Calling the Ducks a one-man show wouldn't be entirely accurate, but the extent to which the team's fate is tied to Mariota was laid bare against the Cougars.

Needing a steady hand to right the ship in the second half, Oregon looked toward its quarterback.

In the last 30 minutes, Mariota completed 14-of-15 passes and tossed two touchdowns. The last one came on a slant route to Keanon Lowe with 5:33 remaining.

The Ducks' defense finally stepped up and they were the beneficiary of a missed pass-interference call after the score, but that shouldn't detract from what Mariota did.

His poise and accuracy in the face of a potentially catastrophic upset was impressive. With every passing game, Mariota is proving that he's not only the top Heisman candidate, he's also the best NFL prospect in the nation.

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Clemson vs. Florida State: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers and Seminoles

Without star quarterback Jameis Winston, the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles found a way to preserve the nation's longest winning streak and stay in the national title hunt, holding off the No. 22 Clemson Tigers 23-17 in overtime Saturday night.

It was a sloppy game in Tallahassee, Florida, that featured three total turnovers and multiple missed opportunities from both teams.

How did the two teams grade out?

 

Clemson Tigers Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Clemson had success moving the ball through the air against Florida State. Cole Stoudt got things going early, completing three of his first five passes for 40 yards. Then Deshaun Watson took over on Clemson's third drive and never relinquished control, completing 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards. Neither quarterback threw an interception, but the Tigers also failed to throw a touchdown pass. Stoudt missed a wide-open tight end at the goal line on the game's second drive.

Run Offense: The Tigers had things going early, rushing for 85 yards in the first half. The running lanes got much smaller for Clemson in the second half, though, as the team finished with 101 yards on the ground. C.J. Davidson had a nice night, accounting for 54 yards on just 12 carries. But Clemson's inability to pick up one yard on fourth down in overtime proved to be the difference in the game.

Pass Defense: Florida State's offensive line had all kinds of trouble blocking Clemson's active defensive front. The Tigers notched five sacks, picked off two passes and pressured the quarterback consistently all night. The Seminoles found a bit of a groove in the second half, which sparked the rally.

Run Defense: The Tigers completely shut down Florida State’s rushing attack Saturday night. The Seminoles managed just 13 yards on 27 carries, averaging less than 0.5 yard per carry. Vic Beasley was nearly uncontainable, which forced the Seminoles to run away from his side of the field for much of the night. But in overtime, Clemson's stout run defense collapsed as Florida State waltzed 25 yards on two carries. 

Special Teams: Special teams was a disaster for Dabo Swinney Saturday night. Punter Bradley Pinion had a solid night, and the coverage units did a good job of containing Kermit Whitfield and a dangerous group of returners. But kicker Ammon Lakip missed two of his three field-goal attempts. In a game that ended up in overtime, the Tigers will be wondering what could have been if Lakip had connected on his three tries.

Coaching: Swinney and the Clemson coaching staff called a brilliant game for much of the night, but some puzzling calls down the stretch soured a solid outing. Specifically, needing just one yard on fourth down in overtime, the Tigers ran the ball out of the shotgun formation. Florida State got penetration easily, notching a tackle for loss and a turnover on downs. That decision ultimately cost Clemson the game.

 

Florida State Seminoles Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Florida State found out just how valuable Jameis Winston is to this offense. The Seminoles struggled with Sean Maguire at the helm, as the redshirt sophomore completed just 21 of his 39 pass attempts Saturday night. He threw two costly interceptions, but a familiar hero in Rashad Greene emerged late when he broke free behind the Clemson secondary for the game-tying 74-yard touchdown. 

Run Offense: The Seminoles running game was shut down almost entirely by the Clemson defense. Florida State’s offensive line had trouble opening up lanes for the running backs as Karlos Williams and Mario Pender rushed for just 60 yards on 18 carries. Back-to-back runs of 13 and 12 yards from Williams in overtime won the game for Florida State, though, so the Seminoles delivered when it mattered.

Pass Defense: Florida State's defense came up with a number of huge plays throughout the game, but Clemson's quarterbacks moved the ball regularly against what was the nation's top defense last year. The Seminoles surrendered 306 yards through the air—266 of which came from true freshman Watson—while failing to produce a single turnover.

Run Defense: Clemson had some momentum on the ground early, but Florida State shut the running game down in the second half. That was big for the Seminoles, who lost one of the country's best defenders when defensive lineman Mario Edwards was forced to the sideline with a concussion. After giving up 85 rushing yards in the first half, the Seminoles surrendered just 16 in the second half and overtime.

Special Teams: Special teams was the only area where Florida State had a clear advantage. The punting and return games between both teams were essentially a scratch, but kicker Roberto Aguayo was a noticeable advantage for the Seminoles. He drilled his only field-goal attempt of the night—a 50-yard boot in the first quarter.

Coaching: The Seminoles were outcoached and outplayed by Clemson for most of the night, but when the game hung in the balance down the stretch, Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles came through. Florida State had the ball with 96 seconds to go in regulation, but knowing he had a big advantage in the kicking game, Fisher opted to play for overtime. That decision worked out perfectly as the Tigers shot themselves in the foot on their final drive, which gave Florida State the opportunity to steal the game.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 4

Survive and advance.

That's what Florida State did after the 11th-hour edict (well, it came down at 11 p.m. ET Friday) that kept Jameis Winston out of Saturday night's ACC showdown against Clemson. Despite the shaky play of first-time starting quarterback Sean Maguire, the Seminoles took advantage of a plethora of Tigers mistakes to pull out a 23-17 victory in overtime.

By winning its 19th consecutive game, FSU kept alive its quest of making the first College Football Playoff and repeating as national champions. The close escape will not harm the Seminoles' chances of making it to the playoff field as long as they keep winning.

Since they have only a single game against a ranked opponent remaining in the regular season—versus Notre Dame at home Oct. 18—their biggest challenge ahead might be to make sure Winston stays out of trouble.

But FSU was hardly the only playoff contender encountering problems this weekend; each of the Top Five teams in the AP poll took a good while before putting away pesky opponents. Auburn stole (maybe not literally) a victory at Kansas State on Thursday, and Oregon stayed up late before finally dispatching Washington State. 

At the end, we have more or less status quo, as No. 7 LSU was the only team in the Top 15 that actually lost. That doesn't mean there isn't any movement at the top. Here's a quick look at what's transpired in Week 4:

 

Teams That Moved Up

Michigan State

The Spartans routed Eastern Michigan, as expected, but what really buoyed them was what the rest of the Big Ten did. 

Much maligned after the first three weeks of the season, the B1G went 12-1 this weekend and 4-1 against Big Five power-conference foes. Indiana's upset of the SEC's Missouri was the highlight.

As the highest-ranked Big Ten team, MSU will try to crawl back into the playoff picture.

 

Mississippi State

Will all seven SEC West teams be ranked in the Top 25 at some point this season? That's looking very likely after the Bulldogs pulled off the day's biggest upset, a 34-29 win in Death Valley over LSU.

MSU has no breathing room, just like any other team in this division. After a bye week, the Bulldogs get Texas A&M and Auburn back-to-back.

 

Oklahoma

West Virginia proved to be pesky, but Oklahoma used a big second half to put the game away.

The Sooners can rightfully claim that their 12-point win over WVU is more impressive than Alabama's 10-point victory since they played in Morgantown whereas 'Bama had a quasi-home game at the Georgia Dome.

 

Alabama

The Tide labored for a while before dismissing Florida. But even with four turnovers, Alabama pulled away thanks to 445 passing yards by Blake Sims and 645 yards of total offense.

So far, Nick Saban's hiring of the lightning rod Lane Kiffin as the offensive coordinator has not been a bust, especially since his former OC, Doug Nussmeier, isn't exactly lighting it up at Michigan.

 

Duke

With the ACC Coastal again looking like the conference's redheaded stepchild, it certainly seems possible, even likely, that Duke might win the division again.

The Blue Devils are one of only two unbeaten teams in the division (Georgia Tech is the other), and their high-octane offense is coming off back-to-back blowouts of Kansas and Tulane.

 

Teams That Moved Down

BYU

After their impressive rout of Texas, the Cougars again labored to put away a team they should handle comfortably at home. As an independent, BYU is in desperate need of style points, as it's guaranteed nothing in the CFP structure.

It didn't get enough in Saturday's 41-33 win over Virginia.

 

LSU 

The Tigers were given a pass after rallying to defeat Wisconsin in the season opener, but they won't get one from the voters after losing to Mississippi State.

They get most of their tough SEC West games late in the season, but by then the Tigers might be out of it.

 

SEC East

Whereas the SEC West is rightfully viewed as the toughest division, the East is anything but. Every team has already lost at least once, and no team has done much to distinguish itself.

Is it too late for the SEC to let two West teams play for the conference title?

 

Oregon

The Ducks blew a chance to cement their claim for No. 1 when they couldn't pull away from a Washington State team that lost to Rutgers and Nevada.

Just like it did for three quarters against Michigan State, Oregon's defense is showing all kinds of signs of being very ordinary.

 

Northern Illinois

After vexing the BCS for the last two years, the playoff committee can relax, as the Huskies will no longer be worthy of any sort of discussion for anything after a blowout loss at Arkansas. 

 

"Group of 5" Team in the Best Position

East Carolina

A week after upsetting Virginia Tech, the Pirates hung 70 points on North Carolina.

While Marshall and Cincinnati are the only teams from "Group of 5" conferences without a loss, ECU has easily the most impressive resume. So impressive, in fact, that if it wins the American Athletic in its inaugural season, it should be a lock for a New Year's Six bowl.

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Sean Maguire Overcomes Shaky Start to Help Save Florida State's Season

"I can't put it into words," Sean Maguire said. "It's the greatest feeling of my life so far, that's for sure. To get this win for our team, it's just awesome."

In the first half it was painfully obvious that it was the Florida State's quarterback's first start as Maguire was beaten, battered and inaccurate for the first 30 minutes of play. But, the redshirt sophomore shook off his 6-of-17 start to complete 15 of 22 passes for 199 yards and a critical touchdown bomb to Rashad Greene in the second stanza.  It is not a stretch to say Maguire's second half saved the Seminole's season. 

"I can't be prouder of Sean Maguire tonight, all he did for our team, the resolve he had," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.

"I saw a guy determined to lead his team to a victory," Greene said. "To give it all he had for us. I just tip my hat off to that guy the way he stepped up and the way he prepared for that game in two days."

Maguire's turnaround started on the Noles first drive of the second half. Playing more frequently in the shotgun, Maguire looked comfortable. He led FSU on a nine-play, 68-yard drive to open the third quarter. Mario Pender's 1-yard touchdown run tied the game at 10 with 11:05 left in the third quarter.

"Coming out of the second half, that first drive, we were like, 'Alright, we got this. We got to go. We got to start driving the ball and scoring some points,' " Maguire said.

The Seminoles have now won 19 straight games and kept their chances of reaching the College Football Playoff alive. They will now enjoy a quick respite in the schedule before an Oct. 18 showdown at home against No. 9 Notre Dame.

The Noles ACC Title game chances also skyrocketed with the win.  FSU (3-0, 1-0 ACC) now enjoys a leg up on Clemson (1-2, 0-1) in the Atlantic Division battle. The FSU-Clemson winner has won the Atlantic Division each season since 2009.

Despite serving as Maguire's clipboard guy for much of the game the suspended Jameis Winston still found a way to impact his team both positively and negatively. 

Winston started as a distraction as he warmed up with the Seminoles an hour before game time, taking snaps and throwing passes while in a full uniform. But he then after a heated chat with Jimbo Fisher went to the locker room and returned with his garnet No. 5 jersey, black warm-up pants and a garnet FSU hat.

However, according to Maguire, Winston's impact on the game itself was unquestionably positive.

"He's been my biggest supporter since I found out I was starting," Maguire said. "He stayed in that room with me until 10, 10:30 at night, watching film. He was telling me what he was seeing, I was telling him what I was seeing. He was awesome."

Winston spent the game on the sideline, effusively cheering on his teammates while helping Maguire following each offensive drive.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats are courtesy of seminoles.com.

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Houston Cougars Offense Finally Shows Promise in 47-14 Beatdown of UNLV

Houston, we have an offense.

The Coogs rolled up and down the field against UNLV on Saturday night at TDECU Stadium, finally exhibiting some of the firepower Houston fans expected to see when the season began.

The Cougars evened their overall record at 2-2 with a 47-14 beatdown of UNLV. Houston heads into American Athletic Conference play a dark-horse contender for the conference crown.  

The offense was efficient and effective.

As a team, Houston rushed for 399 yards. Sophomore running back Ryan Jackson ran for 147 yards on 13 carries, and junior running back Kenneth Farrow totaled 113 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Houston finally looked like it had an offense that could pile up both yards and points.

Things didn’t start that way.

Early in the game, Houston appeared to be continuing its season-long struggle to find some consistency on offense, something head coach Tony Levine and offensive coordinator Travis Bush should still be concerned about as they prepare to host Central Florida on October 2 in a nationally televised conference opener for both teams.

Sophomore quarterback John O’Korn threw two interceptions in the first half, and the Coogs relied mostly on their ground game to build a 13-7 halftime lead.

But O’Korn and the offense found their rhythm in the third quarter. O’Korn tossed two touchdowns, one each to wide receiver Daniel Spencer and running back Jackson, and Houston seemed to find sustained success in its aerial attack.

It was an important step forward for Houston, whose fans remain hopeful Levine will win his first conference title as head coach this season.

For something like that to even be possible, Levine and his O-coordinator, Bush, must find sustainable success in the passing game going forward.

Houston’s recent history is littered with high-flying, video game-like offenses. From 2003-06, Kevin Kolb lit up opposing defenses under former coach Art Briles’ innovative hybrid Air Raid system.

Kolb passed for almost 13,000 yards during his career, totaling 85 passing touchdowns with a 61.6 completion percentage.

Case Keenum picked up right where Kolb left off. Under Briles as a freshman and Kevin Sumlin after, Keenum amassed an NCAA record for total yards, touchdowns and just about every other passing statistic possible.

Keenum threw for 19,217 yards and 155 touchdowns from 2007-11. His career completion percentage was a whopping 69.4.

But Houston’s vaunted passing offense has taken a giant leap backward since third-year coach Levine took over for Sumlin before the 2012 season.

Back then, Levine told the Houston Chronicle’s Sam Khan the Cougar offense would remain unchanged:

We've recruited successfully to this offense. We've got the players in place for this offense. To go out and to hire somebody to come in here and replace the best offense in the history of college football with a new scheme and a new system didn't make sense to me.

But things changed, and not for the better.

Levine has gone through three offensive coordinators since, and none of them have been able to imitate the revved-up offense Keenum and company ran under the previous regime.

Bush, who handled play-calling duties in Levine’s first year after Mike Nesbitt’s early-season resignation, was named offensive coordinator this season after last year’s play-caller, Doug Meacham, departed for TCU.

But things didn’t go as planned for Bush in his new gig. Houston was handled by UTSA 27-7 in its first-ever game at TDECU Stadium. O’Korn tossed four interceptions, and the offense looked absolutely abysmal.

Things improved against Grambling State. Houston rolled to a 47-0 win, but the talent disparity in the game—and O’Korn’s continued erratic play—left Houston fans wondering if things would ever start to click on offense under Bush.

But Houston seems to have settled in since its failed comeback against BYU in Provo last week. Down 23-0 in the second quarter, Houston stormed back to make a game of it.

The Coogs fell to BYU 33-25.

O'Korn threw for 307 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-52 passing, and Houston’s offense showed real promise for the first time this season.

Against UNLV, O’Korn continued his season-long turnover parade, but he also appeared cool, calm and confident as the game moved past its early stages.

O’Korn finished the game with 135 yards passing on 12-of-27 passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for a score and appeared to be in control of the offense before he was pulled late when the score was out of hand.

Houston will need even more from O’Korn during conference play against the likes of Central Florida, Cincinnati and East Carolina.

For Houston to be considered serious contenders for the AAC title, the Cougars offense will have to continue its progression under Bush.

Gone are the days of 70 pass attempts, and perhaps 70 points in a game, too. But Houston’s multiple-set attack, one that relies on long passes and varied running schemes from players lined up all over the field, finally seems like something that could really work.

If O’Korn can cut down the turnovers, and if the bulk of Houston’s rushing game against UNLV wasn’t just a mirage brought to life by an overmatched defense, the Cougar faithful might have something to smile about after Levine’s third season at Houston’s helm.

If Houston has an offense, it’s as dangerous as any team in the AAC.

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LSU's Defensive Woes Against Mississippi State a Possible Sign of Things to Come

Mississippi State took LSU's defense into a back alley and beat them down. 

Yes, that sounds rough. But it is true. The Bulldogs bullied the Tigers in their own habitat on Saturday night.

Quarterback Dak Prescott was the maestro of an offense that tallied 34 points, 302 rushing yards and 570 total yards. And most of the damage was done right up the middle

The LSU defense was cut up, but the defensive tackles were bludgeoned. The Bulldogs left chalk outlines of Christian LaCouture, Quentin Thomas and Davon Godchaux on the field. 

Mississippi State's free blockers and massive ball-carriers then delivered punishment to LSU's linebackers and defensive backs. It was like Mike Tyson taking lunch money from kindergartners. 

Sure, LSU's defeat does not just fall on the shoulders of the defense. Offensively, the Tigers did not score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. 

But LSU has won games in the past with anemic offenses. The program has been built on dominant defenses that suffocate the opposition. The Tigers will not be competitive if teams are able to run the ball with ease against them.

Prescott's 373 total yards and three touchdowns could be the first of many masterful performances against LSU. Five of the Tigers' seven remaining SEC games will be against mobile quarterbacks. None of these signal-callers are the caliber of Prescott, but they must get better at containing quarterbacks that can run. 

Running back Josh Robinson rushed for a career high 197 yards on only 16 carries. His previous high was 101 yards against Arkansas last season, per ESPN.com

The remaining backs the Tigers will face include T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, Derrick Henry, Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins, Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant, Matt Jones and Trey Williams. They are all as good, if not better, backs than Robinson. If LSU cannot stop him, then dark days could be ahead for the Bayou Bengals against talented SEC workhorses. 

 LSU head coach Les Miles knows he needs to shake some things up. 

Les Miles: "you'll see us respond. There will be changes made. Some changes that you won't see." @1045espn

— James Haralson (@jamesharalson) September 21, 2014

Miles better make some changes. LSU will play New Mexico State next week, which is the last cupcake team they will face. After that, there are no guaranteed wins for the Tigers.

But the Tigers must recover from the repeated uppercuts they received from Mississippi State. Because beat downs such as those take time to heal. 

 

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

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Oklahoma Defense Shows Championship Mettle in Surviving Tough Big 12 Road Test

On the road against West Virginia Saturday, Oklahoma's defense took a jab for the first time this season.

Then it took a hook. And then it took a hard right uppercut to the face. It never quite tumbled to the mat, but it was punch-drunk, fading fast.

With a shootout starting to feel inevitable, however, the Sooners' strongest unit took the reins, holding a skilled and well-coached West Virginia offense to three points in the first 28 minutes of the second half (pre-garbage time) en route to a 45-33 win.

In doing so, it not only showed the backbone of a championship-caliber defense—the type that plays its best when beset with adversity—it kept Oklahoma undefeated and squarely in the thick of the national title discussion.

West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett started the game hot, throwing for more than 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns in roughly a quarter-and-a-half. He looked comfortable inside and outside the pocket, a rare feat against a defense so predicated on breeding discomfort.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez—considered one of the best defensive backs in the Big 12—was burned by Kevin White for a 68-yard touchdown in the first quarter. It was a rare moment where a crack in his armor was exposed, and he didn't recover well in the play's immediate aftermath.

But then, as he's want to do, Sanchez came down with a game-changing interception, ending West Virginia's streak of three consecutive scoring drives (and four touchdowns in five possessions) by picking off Trickett at the end of the first half.

And from there, everything changed:

Oklahoma's defensive uptick helped pave the way for Saturday's offensive hero, freshman running back Samaje Perine.

Perine will be the story Sunday morning—and throughout the subsequent week—after rushing for 242 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries. And rightfully so. He more than aptly filled Keith Ford's shoes in the backfield, plowing downhill with his trademark head of steam and finishing runs. He's not as agile as Ford, whose quick feet added a useful dimension to this offense, but he looks like a definite keeper.

As good as Perine was, though, he certainly benefitted from a tired West Virginia defense in the second half. The Mountaineers looked sluggish and defeated trying to keep up with Perine's physicality, in no small part because their offense kept forcing them back on the field.

A particular defining moment came with just about 5:00 left in the third quarter. OU was up by four points (31-27), but Trevor Knight threw behind his intended receiver and was intercepted near midfield. The never-quiet Morgantown crowd became particularly not quiet, sensing a potential turning point. It had the ball on the outskirts of scoring position with the chance to drive down and take the lead.

Two plays later, it didn't.

Trickett lofted a bad interception to safety Quinton Hayes, who followed up a career-best performance against Tennessee (three tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble and fumble recovery) with perhaps an even better all-around showing. He is quickly becoming one of the best playmaking safeties in America.

Hayes' emergence—or, rather, ascent—is a scary addition to a defense whose strength lies along the front seven. West Virginia's underrated (and very good) offensive line played as well as it could, especially in the first half, but was ultimately overwhelmed by the forces of Jordan Phillips, Geneo Grissom and Co. in the trenches.

Chuka Ndulue, for example, flattened Trickett on a 4th-and-5 with less than 10 minutes to play—the last time West Virginia seriously threatened to get back into the game.

Good luck trying to throw with this in your face:

Bob and Mike Stoops took a huge risk last year, shifting from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4/3-3-5. The move came after a poor defensive season, leading to speculation that it was made out of desperation.

But Bob denied that to Matt Hinton of Grantland earlier this week, maintaining that "the reasons (for the move) were personnel-related." He tailored his scheme to his players, a group that can dominate the trenches with only three down linemen and benefits from having more speed in the middle third.

We knew before Saturday that this defense was good, but we didn't know for sure if it was resilient. We knew that it could throw a punch, but not if it could necessarily take one.

Those unknowns both became knowns in Week 4.

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Nebraska Football: Abdullah's Heisman Run in High Gear as Big Ten Play Begins

When the Nebraska Cornhuskers launched a Heisman campaign for I-back Ameer Abdullah, they kept the tagline simple: Fear Ameer. Against Miami, Abdullah lived up to it.

The senior rushed for 229 yards on 35 attempts for two touchdowns. He also added a three-yard touchdown reception to his game statistics for the night.

Folks, like myself, predicted Abdullah would have a quieter day against Miami's front seven. Instead, he proved that, regardless of opponent, he can move the ball.

By the end of the game, the Heisman talk was louder than ever, as Alex Donno of 560 WQAM made clear.

It's time to take Abdullah seriously for the Heisman. With Big Ten play here, many expect him to do just that, like Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com said:

However, Abdullah knows he and his team can't take any opponent lightly. As Nebraska fights to make it to the Big Ten Championship, overlooking opponents cannot happen.

"We're 0-0 right now," Abdullah said. "It's a new schedule every time we play. Big Ten play is next week and we're 4-0, we've got a lot of experience right now but we have a long journey ahead of us."

If Abdullah wants a shot at winning the Heisman, his campaign will rely on the success of his team going forward. With the Big Ten's rough showing to date through non-conference play, the conference isn't doing him many favors. He and the Huskers will have to make up for it.

Head coach Bo Pelini is confident in Abdullah's abilities, though. Against Miami, Pelini believed Abdullah put it all out on the field for the team.

"I've been around a lot of football," Pelini said. "No. 8 showed how special he is tonight. He ran like a man possessed."

Quarterback Tommy Armstrong agreed. "He's being Ameer," Armstrong said. "First three games, he's been doing the same thing."

While Abdullah downplayed his success in the post-game press conference, he had a big night. The senior increased his career all-purpose yardage total to 5,762 yards, which made him Nebraska’s new career all-purpose yards leader. He surpassed 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers to do so.

Additionally, Abdullah's 229 rushing yards against Miami increased his career rushing total to 3,602 and moved him into third place on the Huskers' career rushing list.

These statistics show Abdullah isn't slowing down anytime soon. As he pushes forward as the Huskers' workhorse, Big Ten teams are going to need to be ready.

"The game of football is about passion," Abdullah said.

And that passion is exactly what's putting his Heisman campaign in high gear.

 

All quotes and statistics were obtained firsthand via the Huskers' post-game press conference, unless otherwise noted.

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Miami vs. Nebraska: Game Grades, Analysis for Hurricanes and Cornhuskers

In a game that occasionally showed us shades of those great Miami-Nebraska bowl matchups from the 20th century, the Huskers came out on top, 41-21, to take the lead in the all-time series against the Hurricanes, 6-5.  The Huskers also move to 4-0 all time against the 'Canes in Lincoln.

The story of the night surrounded the two teams' running backs, and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah clearly had the better of things.  We'll take a look at every facet of both teams' performance in our game grades for Nebraska and Miami.

Box score via NCAA.com

 

Miami Passing Offense

Through the first half, Brad Kaaya completed 11-of-17 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw a very costly pick.  As the game wore on, the true freshman acquitted himself nicely, finishing with 359 yards and three touchdown tosses.

But a very costly late pick hurts Miami's final grade in this category, dropping it to a "B-."

 

Miami Rushing Offense

This is where the 'Canes were expected to shine but ended up being the most disappointing aspect of Miami's performance.

Nebraska's stout run defense is definitely in for some credit later, but Miami running back Duke Johnson still looked good for at least 100 yards heading into the game. On 18 carries, Johnson had 93 yards (5.2 yards per carry).  I thought Johnson should've gotten more touches, but that's a coaching issue—which, again, will be addressed a little bit later.

 

Miami Pass Defense

Nebraska doesn't throw the ball much, so Miami's pass defense numbers look pretty darn good as a result.  But the 'Canes still gave up 113 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 pass attempts—not great but certainly not terrible.  

The interception Miami came up with also helps, and we'll give the team a "B" for its effort.

 

Miami Run Defense

There haven't been many teams anywhere in the nation that have had success containing Nebraska's Abdullah.  But Miami did a particularly poor job on the evening.

Abdullah rushed for 229 yards and Nebraska called 54 run plays to just 13 pass plays.  Even knowing that the Huskers were going to run the ball, the Hurricanes still gave up 345 on the ground.  

It could be argued that a "C-" is overly generous.

 

Miami Special Teams

Miami didn't return a single punt in the game, so it's hard to reward or punish the team for that.  On three kick returns, the Canes averaged less than 18 yards.

Again, nothing special.  But unblemished place-kicking—Michael Badgley went 1-of-1 on field goals and 4-of-4 on extra points—was a bright spot, so the special teams gets a solid "B" grade.

 

Miami Coaching

In the first half, Miami did little to impress in terms of adjusting to Nebraska's run-heavy play-calling. The safeties didn't come up in run support, and the Huskers exploited the mismatches up front.

The second half was no different, as Ameer Abdullah continued to run roughshod over the Canes.  As things began to get ugly, we really wanted to see Al Golden do more to take control of his team.  The fact that Miami was flagged eight times for 82 yards, including three personal fouls over a two-play stretch, was very disappointing.

Golden and his staff are very lucky to escape with a "C-" and no player ejections.

 

 

Nebraska Passing Offense

It's hard to give too much credit to a pass offense that throws just 13 passes, one of which is picked off.  But two of those throws did go for touchdowns, and there were 113 yards in there, too.

Plus, expectations were low in regards to Tommy Armstrong throwing the ball, so it's hard to be disappointed.  Not impressed, not disappointed equals a ho-hum "B."

 

Nebraska Rushing Offense

Tell me why the Huskers don't get an "A" for tonight's performance.  In the first half, Ameer Abdullah ran for 121 yards on 19 carries.  By the time the night was over, he had extended those numbers to 229 yards on 35 carries and a pair of scores.

Add in the 96 yards from Tommy Armstrong and a team total of 345 yards on the ground and in the end, I won't give the Huskers an "A."

We'll give them an "A+."

 

Nebraska Pass Defense

Nebraska knew full well that the 'Canes had their own Abdullah-esque running back in Duke Johnson, so the Huskers are to be excused for selling out against the run from time to time.  What can't be overlooked, however, is the pass defense giving up a whopping 359 yards and three touchdowns.

Miami had five receivers with over 40 yards and did a find job of spreading the field.  However, as much the bad can't be ignored, the good shouldn't be dismissed either.

The two interceptions (Joshua Kalu and Jamal Turner) were critical in this win, and are a good excuse for me to give the Huskers pass D a "B-."

 

Nebraska Run Defense

Nebraska's porous pass defense encouraged Miami to stick with moving the ball through the air.  Duke Johnson is no slouch in the Miami backfield, and the Huskers still held him to under 100 yards.

Randy Gregory was a beast from start to finish, and the defensive line for Nebraska frequently got the better of Miami's big uglies.  Despite Johnson's 93 yards, the 'Canes were held to 76 rushing yards and a single rushing touchdown.  Miami is 13-0 in games in which Johnson rushes for 100 or more yards.  When he doesn't hit the century mark, things like tonight happen.

That's easily good enough for an "A" grade.

 

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams got into the action a little bit more than Miami's.  Drew Brown was 2-of-2 on field goals and 5-of-5 in points after attempts.  The lone punt from Sam Foltz went for 49 yards, and the Huskers averaged 20.3 yards on four kick returns.

Arguably, the only negative for the Huskers was a middling 5.5 yard-per-return average on two punt returns.

 

Nebraska Coaching

Bo Pelini had a definite game plan on offense, and it was executed to near perfection.  There weren't too many adjustments made to contain Miami's passing attack, but a win is a win, and it's hard to penalize the coaching staff for winning a football game.

We will, however, give Pelini extra credit for the way he handled the chippiness late in the game, and sending Randy Gregory to the showers a few seconds early, as Gregory was the focal point for Miami's angst during several scuffles.  That turns a coaching performance otherwise worthy of "B" into a "B+."

 

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

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Mississippi State vs. LSU: Game Grades, Analysis for the Bulldogs and Tigers

Mississippi State and LSU went to war in Death Valley on Saturday, and the Bulldogs came away with the win, 34-29. The final box score can be found here, thanks to NCAA.com.

Mississippi State hit on all cylinders on offense, defense and special teams. The Bulldogs ran the ball effectively, threw the ball with ease and gave the LSU offense zero room to breathe. If not for a couple of turnovers by the Bulldogs in the second half, LSU would have lost the game by 20 points instead of five. The Bulldogs remain undefeated, while the Tigers suffer their first loss of the year.

Here are game grades for the Bulldogs and Tigers.

 

Pass Offense: Dak Prescott played his best game as a Bulldog. He threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns. He was able to sling the ball so effectively because he had great pocket presence and the offensive line gave him more than enough time to throw. Having guys like De’Runnya Wilson and Jameon Lewis to throw to also helped.

Run Offense: The big reason the Bulldogs were able to pull off the upset was the fact they ran all over the LSU defense. The team rushed for 302 yards, and Josh Robinson had the majority of them (197 yards on 16 carries). Prescott also ran the ball well, scrambling for 105 yards on 22 carries. The Bulldogs wanted to win the battle at the line of scrimmage; they did that in a big way, which led to them wearing out the Tigers toward the end of the game.

Pass Defense: Anthony Jennings could never get going for LSU because the defensive backs kept everything in front of them. Led by Justin Cox and Jamerson Love, the Bulldogs secondary never let the LSU playmakers get anything going in the passing game. Late in the game, Brandon Harris came in and added a spark for the Tigers.

Run Defense: This was another big reason why Mississippi State beat LSU. The Bulldogs allowed only 89 yards on the ground, and no running back for LSU amassed more than 38 yards. The front seven for the Bulldogs reacted to the football and seemingly never missed a tackle. Benardrick McKinney and Beniquez Brown combined for 14 tackles and were huge in attacking the LSU running backs.

Special Teams: It was a solid night for the special teams. Evan Sobiesk made his two field goals, and Devon Bell had two punts inside the 20. There weren’t any big returns, but Jamoral Graham put the Bulldogs in good position to put points on the board.

Coaching: Dan Mullen did a good job of preparing his team for what the Tigers were going to run on offense and defense. He also did a great job of preparing them for the LSU fans because the Bulldogs took them out of the game early. Mullen finally has the pieces he needs to run his offense, and it was on full display against LSU.

 

Pass Offense: Anthony Jennings was inconsistent all game long. He overthrew his receivers and never looked comfortable in the pocket. It wasn’t until Brandon Harris came in late in the game and threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter that the pass offense had some success. Should Harris be the starter, especially with Jennings going down with a shoulder injury?

Run Offense: The strength for LSU this season was a weakness against Mississippi State. No running back ran for more than 38 yards, and as a team, the Tigers ran for 89 yards on 35 carries. They had to abandon the run eventually because they had to throw to get back in the game, but the front seven for Mississippi State gave them no room to run at all.

Pass Defense: The LSU secondary had fits all game long trying to cover Wilson and Lewis. The speed of the two receivers frustrated the Tigers, which is why Prescott was able to go to them early and often. The Tigers had not faced a quarterback like Prescott this season, so it was a good test to see where they are as a defensive unit.

Run Defense: It’s been a while since we’ve seen this LSU defense get ran over like it did against the Bulldogs. The Tigers had no answer for Prescott and Robinson, which is why the Bulldogs ran for more than 300 yards. The front seven will need to tighten things up quickly because Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas are just as good at running the football.

Special Teams: The one good thing for the Tigers is that Jamie Keehn was able to punt the ball effectively. He punted eight times and averaged 51 yards per punt. Colby Delahoussaye made his only field goal, and Leonard Fournette was solid in the kick return game. The special teams for LSU did not make an impact but did not make any costly mistakes either.

Coaching: Les Miles and his coaching staff did not expect the Bulldogs would run the ball all over them, and they also did not expect that they could not run the ball on Mississippi State in return. Miles didn’t underestimate the Bulldogs, but the coaches did not game-plan well against the Bulldogs, and it showed on the field. This game is a good learning experience for the coaching staff as the Tigers get into the thick of the SEC schedule.

 

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Oklahoma vs. West Virginia: Game Grades, Analysis for Sooners

Whatever Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops told his guys at halftime, it certainly worked.

After a back-and-forth first half, the Sooners dominated the final 30 minutes, running the West Virginia Mountaineers out of their own stadium, 45-33.

Check out the game’s final stats here and take a look at first- and second-half game grades as well as analysis below.

Passing Offense

There were some concerns over quarterback Trevor Knight coming in. On Saturday, the redshirt sophomore didn’t do much to put those concerns to rest.

Knight threw for just 205 yards and an interception on 16-of-29 passing. It got worse in the second half, as he only threw for 62 yards.

Thankfully, Oklahoma had its rushing attack to lean on in this one.

 

Rushing Offense

What more could be said about the Sooners' ground game on Saturday?

With leading rusher Keith Ford out, the burden fell down on Alex Ross and Samaje Perine to step up. Perine shouldered most of the load, rushing for an impressive 242 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries. Ross did his part when called upon, adding another 56 yards on eight carries. 

When Ford returns, this will arguably be one of the toughest rushing attacks to slow down.

 

Passing Defense

The Oklahoma secondary was bombarded by Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett in the opening half. 

Trickett racked up the yards while the cornerbacks were constantly caught out of position and beat by their man. It was a brutal showing by a unit that began the season solidly.

The Sooners can use the bye week to work on their mistakes.

 

Rushing Defense

Coming into this game, Oklahoma had yet to concede a rushing touchdown, limiting opposing offenses to under 90 yards rushing per game.

Although West Virginia found the end zone twice on the ground and ran for 137 yards, the Sooners front seven was stout once again. The Mountaineers only managed two rushes of over 10 yards and averaged a meager 3.4 yards per carry.

Good luck to any team that tries to run on these guys.

 

Special Teams

The obvious standout from this unit was Ross’ remarkable 100-yard kickoff return just before the half. 

But punter Jed Barnett deserves just as much credit. The senior booted six punts for an average of 47.8 yards per kick, pinning West Virginia inside its 20 once.

Placekicker Michael Hunnicutt deserves a shout out as well, as he surpassed DeMarco Murray as the all-time leading scorer in Oklahoma history.

 

Coaching

The Sooners coaching staff got off to a rush start. 

Whether it was defensive coordinator Mike Stoops being unable to slow down Trickett or offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s refusal to hand the ball to Samaje Perine early on, there were several questionable play-calling decisions. Fortunately, both seemed to turn things around in the second half.

Moving forward, Oklahoma will hope both don’t wait until the second half to get things rolling.

 

All stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Clemson vs. FSU: Projected College Football Playoff Picture After Seminoles' Win

No. 1 Florida State increased its winning streak to 19 games Saturday night, surviving the No. 22 Clemson Tigers in an overtime thriller. The Seminoles were highly tested due to a combination of the absence of starting quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, and a solid effort from the Tigers.

With Winston on the sidelines, Clemson's defense was able to sell out against the run, forcing inexperienced backup signal-caller Sean Maguire to attempt to keep pace with his arm. Maguire provided a valiant effort, and despite his two costly interceptions—and the Seminoles average of 0.5 yards per  rush—the one-sided offense was able to prevail in the end.

The result was a 23-17 Seminoles victory.

Clemson's game plan was fantastic, but without a Seminoles loss, there will be no changing of the guard atop the nation's rankings. With Florida State remaining at the No. 1 spot, here's a look at who is projected to be well in the mix heading into Week 5.

The No. 2 Oregon Ducks shouldn't have much of an issue defeating Washington State during Saturday's late game. However, early in the game, the team wasn't winning any style points, allowing the Cougars to keep up at the half. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network tweeted his take:

Marcus Mariota and Co. have already produced three decisive victories, including one against a very talented Michigan State team, although a win on Saturday will ensure the team retains its No. 2 standing.

The Ducks only have two ranked teams currently remaining on their schedule—the inconsistent No. 12 UCLA Bruins and one-loss No. 16 Stanford Cardinal. It would take an enormous upset for any team to defeat Oregon, and we can assume the team will hold its current position and wait for the Seminoles to falter.

No. 3 Alabama can be expected to retain its position following Florida State's win. The Crimson Tide began the season in shaky fashion, squeezing past West Virginia in Week 1. However, over the team's next three games, it has continuously improved in several facets of the game.

Blake Sims has emerged as a quality quarterback, completing 23 of his 33 passing attempts for 445 yards and four touchdowns against Florida on Saturday. ESPN Stats & Info noted the quarterback's impressive feat:

With a balanced offense now taking shape—along with a solid defense—Nick Saban appears to have a championship-worthy team once again.

The No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners should keep their spot as well. The team did give up 33 points to West Virginia during Saturday's victory, but it also proved to have one of the nation's most devastating ground attacks. Samaje Perine torched the Mountaineers for 242 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries—an average of 7.1 yards per rush.

According to David Ubben of Fox Sports, head coach Bob Stoops had some kind words regarding his running back:

The Sooners have playmakers in every phase of the game—the defense picked off Clint Trickett twice, and Alex Ross returned a kick for a touchdown on Saturday—which makes this team worthy of playoff consideration going forward.

After the four projected playoff teams, we come to a bit of a fork in the road in regard to the next teams in the hunt.

On one hand, No. 5 Auburn remains unbeaten and the heir apparent; however, the team's struggles against No. 20 Kansas State on Thursday may not sit well with voters. Then we have No. 6 Texas A&M. The Aggies haven't played a worthy opponent since Week 1, but their 58-6 victory over SMU on Saturday was certainly impressive.

Style points count in a big way with voters, and we shouldn't be surprised when Kenny Hill and the Aggies leapfrog Auburn to take the No. 5 spot in the impending rankings to hover just beyond the four College Football Playoff teams through four weeks of the 2014 season.

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Clemson vs. FSU: Score and Twitter Reaction

A quarterback battle between Sean Maguire and Jameis Winston won't be brewing anytime soon, but the sophomore quarterback did just enough to push the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles through to a 23-17 overtime win at home against the No. 22 Clemson Tigers.

The 'Noles were outgained by nearly 100 yards (407 to 318) and turned the ball over one more time than Clemson, but FSU somehow found a way to win.

After the game head coach Jimbo Fisher praised his players for "knowing how to win," per ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy:

Maguire nearly threw the game away with 2:14 remaining in the fourth quarter and the game tied, 17-17. He was intercepted by Clemson safety Jadar Johnson who returned it to the FSU 26-yard line.

Two plays later, Maguire could breathe easy as Clemson running back C.J. Davidson fumbled on the FSU 14-yard line. ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach alluded to the Tigers' habit of often being their own worst enemy:

Florida State sat on the ball and settled for overtime.

Clemson turned it over on downs after failing to convert on a 4th-and-1 on the first drive of OT. Seminoles running back Karlos Williams promptly ran the ball twice for 25 yards, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard scamper.

Maguire finished with 305 yards through the air with one touchdown and two interceptions on 21-of-39 passing.

The Seminoles were of course without Winston after the school suspended him for the game for yelling an obscene phrase on campus, per USA Today's Dan Wolken.

The biggest question coming into the game was how well Maguire would perform in his first collegiate start. Beating the No. 22 team in the country is hard enough as is. Beating the No. 22 team in the country while the suspended incumbent Heisman Trophy winner stood on the sidelines is a different prospect entirely.

Former Florida State QB and current ESPN analyst Danny Kanell questioned whether having Winston constantly hovering on the field would do more harm than good:

Winston caused a bit of an issue before the game when he suited up in full pads and warmed up with the rest of the Florida State quarterbacks. Fisher had a word with Winston, and the sophomore returned in street clothes, per Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples:

Through the first half, Maguire looked very much like a QB making his debut against a tough pass rush. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Maguire had eight dropbacks in the first half in which he wasn't under duress:

Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley was a constant presence in the pocket. Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey thought that not having an extra blocker on Beasley courted disaster:

Seminoles offensive tackle Cameron Erving, who's graded as a second-round prospect on CBSSports.com, was lined up most often against Beasley. Grantland's Matt Hinton thought the way Beasley was manhandling Erving was bound to hurt Erving's draft stock:

When starting an inexperienced quarterback, it's always nice to have a steady running game to ease some of the pressure on your signal-caller.

Florida State had the opposite of that in the first half. Williams, Mario Pender and Rashad Greene combined to rush for minus-one yard through the first two quarters. That placed more of the offensive burden on Maguire, and he was clearly laboring under that weight.

The door was open for Clemson to assert itself in the first half, and that's exactly what the Tigers did.

Things didn't really start going Clemson's way until Deshaun Watson replaced Cole Stoudt at quarterback. Stoudt wasn't awful, but the offense remained stuck in neutral when he was under center.

Watson got the Tigers on the scoreboard on his first drive of the game, leading the Tigers 75 yards in 4:43, tying the game 3-3.

The Tigers saw a marked improvement with Watson on the field. He finished the first half 8-of-12 for 132 yards. ESPN.com's Jared Shanker was most impressed with the freshman's poise:

Clemson took a 10-3 lead with 5:56 to go in the half. Taking advantage of great field position, Watson led a six-play, 47-yard touchdown drive, with running back D.J. Howard punching it in from a yard out.

On FSU's first drive of the second half, Maguire went 6-of-7 for 53 yards as Florida State kept moving the chains. Eventually, Pender scored on a one-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 10-10 a little less than four minutes into the half.

He was a vastly different QB over that stretch, not panicking under pressure and getting his passes off in time.

Clemson nearly went up 17-10 as the third quarter drew to a close. Watson hit tight end Stanton Seckinger for a 19-yard pass to the FSU 1-yard line. The officials initially ruled that Seckinger scored, but after reviewing the play, they marked him down at the 1. That proved pivotal a few plays later, when Ryan Norton's snap sailed over the head of Watson and back to the 24-yard line.

That was the first real moment of "Clemsoning," per CBSSports.com's Will Brinson:

The drive ended when Ammon Lakip missed a field goal from 40 yards.

Luckily for the Tigers, the missed opportunity didn't come back to bite them as Maguire was intercepted by safety Jayron Kearse. Four plays after that turnover, Watson scored on a two-yard touchdown run to give Clemson a 17-10 lead with 11:44 in the game.

Things were beginning to look very bleak for Florida State after Maguire was sacked for a loss of 14 yards a few drives later. The play encapsulated why the sophomore was struggling so much, as he saw Corey Crawford applying pressure but held onto the ball rather than throwing it out of bounds.

Of course, on the very next play, Maguire connected with Greene for a 74-yard touchdown to tie the game with 6:04 to go. Clemson defensive back MacKensie Alexander slipped, allowing Greene to jog into the end zone.

As Hinton pointed out, it was a cruel twist of fate for a Tigers defense that had been great for so much of the game:

The Tigers' bad luck was only the beginning, though. Between two missed field goals and the turnovers, head coach Dabo Swinney will surely be ruing what was a golden opportunity to earn a statement win and take the driver's seat in the ACC.

With the win, the Seminoles cleared one of the biggest regular-season hurdles they have left. Notre Dame is the only top-25 team FSU has on its schedule between now and the ACC championship if the team gets that far.

Clemson's hopes of making the ACC championship took a massive blow on Saturday. Even if the Tigers win out, they can only hope that the 'Noles slip up at some point the rest of the way. Right now, that doesn't appear likely.

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South Carolina vs. Vanderbilt: Game Grades, Analysis for the Gamecocks

The No. 14 Gamecocks defeated the Vanderbilt Commodores 48-34 on Saturday in South Carolina's first road game of the season. 

It wasn't easy, however, as Vanderbilt jumped out to a 14-0 lead and dominated the first quarter. Vandy quarterback Patton Robinette got off to a quick start before exiting the game in the second quarter with an apparent head injury.

The Gamecocks never looked back.

Brison Williams' interception return for a touchdown just before halftime gave the 'Cocks their first lead. Quarterback Dylan Thompson was outstanding despite a shaky first quarter, completing 22 of 34 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns. 

Here's a look at how each positional group fared on Saturday night in South Carolina's third straight victory.

Pass Offense: Thompson struggled with his accuracy early, but once he settled down, the Commodores couldn't rattle him. He was especially efficient on third down despite Vanderbilt's consistent pressure. Overall, it was another strong performance for the senior.

Rush Offense: Mike Davis didn't have his best game, but he was far from bad. He fumbled the ball twice, although it resulted in just one turnover. Surprisingly, Brandon Wilds only carried the ball three times. Pharoh Cooper ran for 74 yards—71 of them on one run. The Gamecocks as a team rushed for more than 200 yards. 

Pass Defense: This group fared well. It helped that Vanderbilt isn't settled at the quarterback position and Wade Freebeck was playing in his first extended action of his college career. Williams' interception before halftime changed the game for South Carolina.

Rush Defense: The Gamecocks continue to struggle against the run. They entered the game ranked No. 81 against the run and allowed 156 yards against Vandy. If the Commodores had not gotten behind so late, they would have likely continued to run with great success.

Special Teams: Outside of Elliott Fry's consistency, this wasn't a great night for the Gamecocks. They allowed two kickoffs to be returned for touchdowns. If the Gamecocks didn't allow those two touchdowns, this would likely have been a blowout. 

Coaching: Steve Spurrier did a great job calling plays—as usual. When Thompson was struggling with his accuracy early, Spurrier called for shorter routes that got Cooper involved in the offense. Cooper excels at yards after the catch. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward did a good job of pressuring the Vanderbilt quarterbacks all night. 

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