NCAA Football

What the USC Trojans Need to Do to Remain Favorites in the Pac-12 South

The USC Trojans lost to the Boston College Eagles 37-31 Saturday in Week 3. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down how their future looks...

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3 Reasons Notre Dame Fans Should Be Worried After Purdue Game

When Notre Dame wakes up on Sunday morning, Brian Kelly's team will likely be ranked in the Top 10. They'll also have an inside track to a spot in the College Football Playoff that still looked rather unattainable even after the Irish's shocking 31-0 victory over Michigan. 

For as happy as Irish fans should feel after Brian Kelly's second 3-0 start—giving him one more than Charlie Weis, Ty Willingham and Bob Davie combined—the Irish's harder-fought-than-you'd-expect 30-14 victory over Purdue also gave us a few looks at some problem areas that need to be addressed over Notre Dame's much-needed off week. 

So while we could talk all night about another dominant game from quarterback Everett Golson and another big night on defense for Jaylon Smith, let's turn the focus to some of the issues that should have Irish fans worried as Notre Dame heads into the meat of their schedule. 

 

The Offensive Line is a Mess

This spring, Notre Dame gave redshirt freshman Mike McGlinchey all the reps at right tackle, looking ready to gamble on the talented, 6'7" monster on the edge. But during fall camp Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand decided to move sophomore Steve Elmer to right tackle after he contributed at guard last season.

That move might be one the Irish staff is second guessing, as Elmer hasn't looked all that comfortable taking on pass-rushers, something obvious Saturday night as Purdue hassled Golson to the tune of four sacks and countless hurries. With last year's right tackle, Ronnie Stanley, starting on the left side in Zack Martin's place, neither young tackle is playing all that well.

The interior of the offensive line isn't faring much better. Christian Lombard sat out Saturday night with an ankle sprain and senior Matt Hegarty got his first start at guard. He and fellow guard Conor Hanratty are upperclassmen, but they haven't played a lot of football. 

The Irish ground game was nonexistent against Michigan, something Kelly attributed to Wolverines defensive coordinator Greg Mattison stuffing the box with defenders. Well Purdue shut down Notre Dame's running game as well, limiting the Irish to just 3.7 yards a carry. Kelly talked candidly after the game about the little mistakes that are making all the difference up front. 

"Maybe it’s just the continuity took us a little bit longer," Kelly said, when talking about the changes during fall camp. "It’s nothing big, but it’s everything. We’re going to get better. We’re not where we need to be."

With a trio of running backs as talented as Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel, Notre Dame can't average less than four yards a carry. But the Irish backs are only as good as the guys blocking for them. 

 

Injuries at Key Positions Are Quickly Turning Strengths into Liabilities

Entering the season, the secondary and the receiver corps looked like two areas where the Irish were deeper than at any other time in the Brian Kelly era. But after Saturday night, both position groups look like they're on shaky ground. 

As hearings regarding Notre Dame's academic standing continue to drag on, the Irish are shy four key contributors that would've been major factors on Saturday night. The Irish are short their top leading receiver in DaVaris Daniels and their No. 1 cornerback in KeiVarae Russell. Add to that starter Ishaq Williams at defensive end—he was needed Saturday night with Andrew Trumbetti held out of action—and safety Eilar Hardy, the absence of those players was critical, especially on a night when injuries were piling up.

But turning the focus to the receiver corps and a position that at one point looked to be seven deep is being tested almost every snap. Corey Robinson is playing with a cast on his hand, a fractured thumb robbing him of some ability. A groin injury has kept redshirt freshman Torii Hunter Jr. off the field, though Kelly hopes he'll return after the bye week. 

But a knee injury suffered by Amir Carlisle robs Notre Dame of its first weapon at slot receiver since Kelly took over as head coach. Diagnosed as an MCL injury, Carlisle's status is unknown; it's still early to speculate a return date. In any case, the Irish can hardly afford to be without Daniels, Carlisle, Hunter and a short-handed Robinson for much longer. 

The secondary looked even scarier on Saturday night, especially after starter Max Redfield was ejected after a targeting penalty on a hit he leveled against Purdue quarterback Danny Etling. With captain Austin Collinsworth out with an MCL sprain, the Irish were forced to put seldom-used junior Nicky Baratti on the field. But that lasted only one play, with Baratti's surgically repaired shoulder giving out, forcing true freshman Drue Tranquill onto the field. 

A one-time Purdue commit, Tranquill has seen minutes in specific sub-packages, but he was learning on the fly. 

"He did great. He doesn't know what he's doing, but he was awesome," Kelly said with a laugh. "I say that kiddingly because he does know what he's doing. But we're trying to really keep it simple for him out there." 

Simplicity is hardly what you think of when you see Brian VanGorder's defense. And thinking they can keep offenses confused when Irish defenders are still digesting the scheme doesn't bode well for Notre Dame. 

 

Purdue's First-Half Success Could Be a Blueprint for Opponents

Credit the Irish for shutting down Purdue in the second half, giving up just 121 yards and intercepting two passes against the Boilermakers. But in the first half, Purdue at times carved up the Irish defense, pounding the ball with running backs Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt, while also picking apart the Irish's underneath man-coverage to stay out of 3rd-and-long situations. 

For the first time this season, the Irish looked undersized at the point of attack, yielding nine- and eight-play drives. Purdue managed to score two touchdowns before halftime, but the damage could've been much worse, with a fumble and failed fourth-down conversion keeping the Boilermakers off the scoreboard.

But Purdue's success could be the first signs that Brian VanGorder's defense is becoming predictable. And with a power offense like Stanford coming to town in early October—and several other explosive offenses following—VanGorder's front seven needs to demonstrate that it can own the line of scrimmage.

That's difficult to do without big games from Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones—and especially difficult if the Irish are down Trumbetti and Williams for a significant amount of time, leaving Romeo Okwara and Isaac Rochell as the team's starting ends. 

While the Irish got it together with a fantastic second half, they looked susceptible to downhill running, losing at the point of attack to a Purdue team that had an awful offensive line last season. 

That's not necessarily the best sign of things to come.  

 

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College Football Playoff Projections After Week 3

Week 3 of the 2014 college football season is wrapping up with some of the top teams in the country receiving their first loss.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Adam Kramer breaks down who should be in the four-team College Football Playoff after their performances this week.

Who do you think should be in? Watch the video, and let us know.

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Appreciating College Football's Week 3 Season Ruiners

The true value of an upset often goes unappreciated. A team, typically ranked, inexplicably loses to another squad perceived to be inferior in some form, and thus, the unexpected knocks on our front door without warning. 

While assessing how such carnage was created, we rarely appreciate those who lift the hammer. Instead we put the emphasis on how [insert much more quality team here] came undone in a game that it had no business coming undone. Credit is lost along the way.

Not this time, though. Not in a week that was given the pinata treatment over the course of six days for lacking interest and quality matchups. Heading into Saturday, Week 3 was more about what it wasn’t rather than what it was.

It was supposed to be lackluster. It was supposed to follow the instructions handed out prior to kickoff. Then the destruction came, and teams—quality teams—began dropping like flies. And, adding to the intrigue, the destruction came from a wide variety of underdogs—from hopeless ACC bottom feeders to power programs left for dead. 

Week 3 did not follow the syllabus.

For those of us tuning in, it made for delightful entertainment. For those being torn to pieces without warning, the emotions were far different. But this isn’t about those who came up short; this is, for once, about the teams that poured gasoline on our plans when we least expected it.

 

Virginia

The Cavaliers wreckage nearly came a few weeks ago, when Virginia had UCLA backed in a corner in Week 1. Three defensive scores for the Bruins changed this plan, however, and Virginia had to settle for a spirited showing rather than a monumental victory. 

Against Louisville in Week 3, however, that all changed. Mike London’s team upset the No. 21-ranked Cardinals by the score of 23-21 thanks to solid defense, which seems to be the formula for this team at home. 

Virginia limited Louisville to just 282 yards overall and forced four turnovers. The offense wasn’t all that productive, but it didn’t have to be. Not on Saturday, at least. And that’s all that matters.

As we try to sort through the hierarchy of the ACC after Florida State and Clemson, Virginia helped make a cluttered picture slightly more complicated. It wasn’t pretty, but it was good enough. Style points don't matter here.

 

East Carolina

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the scenario for an upset in the East Carolina vs. Virginia Tech matchup met all the criteria, mainly the possibility of a letdown following an enormous road victory for the ranked team in Week 2.

The Hokies checked in at No. 17 in the AP poll following their victory at Ohio State last week, although this stay was short-lived thanks to the Pirates’ 28-21 win. (It actually could have been much more lopsided, too.) 

ECU had chances—lots and lots of chances—but it could not put Virginia Tech away after jumping out to a 21-0 lead. Offensive miscues and special teams woes made this a game for much longer than it looked like it would be. In the end, however, the Pirates finished with 502 yards of offense against one of the nation’s best defenses, in one of the tougher football environments.

After a game effort at South Carolina in Week 2, East Carolina did one better on Saturday.

 

South Carolina

South Carolina, at least in recent years, is not a program many would classify as a “spoiler.” Under Steve Spurrier, the program has developed into a staple SEC East contender. The "good story" moments are long gone, although this was a slightly different situation.

After being manhandled by Texas A&M at home in Week 1—and looking better but still shaky at times against ECU—it was assumed that Georgia and Todd Gurley would run right over the Gamecocks in a building that has not been kind to Georgia over the past few decades. That was not to be.

South Carolina took down a team many were tossing into College Football Playoff projections with a late 4th-and-inches conversion that prompted this magnificent Spurrier reaction. 

For the Gamecocks, this upset means much more than some of the other teams mentioned here. For starters, it puts them back in the thick of the SEC East, which didn’t seem feasible 48 hours ago. It plugged holes—even if some still exist—and it also proved that the Ol’ Ball Coach is still capable of magic every now and then.

 

Boston College

If I told you going into the USC vs. Boston College game that one team would run for 452 yards and the other team would run for just 20 yards—better known as two first downs—you probably would have understood and accepted the outcome.

The difference, however, is that you wouldn’t have anticipated Boston College would be on the positive side of this outcome. Well, surprise. This was, without question, the biggest upset of the weekend and the most significant upset of the young season.

Yes, USC just came off a physical win over Stanford and had to take a long plane ride. But don’t let that serve as an excuse as to why Boston College dominated the No. 9 team in the country from the start and finished with a 37-31 win. 

USC linebacker Hayes Pullard summed it up perfectly.

#USC linebacker Hayes Pullard: ``They had the stadium and the emotion. We got hit in the mouth early.''

— InsideUSC (@InsideUSC) September 14, 2014

Eagles quarterback back Tyler Murphy ran for 191 yards against one of the best defenses in the Pac-12, and BC averaged more than eight yards per carry for the game. Perhaps more jarring than what Boston College was able to do was that it pulled off the upset by completing just five passes on 14 attempts for 54 yards.

This was a blueprint for how you draw up an upset against a Top 10 team: Run the ball, stop the other team from running the ball, take advantage of your home environment and see what happens. 

In the instance of USC—along with three more ranked teams that took a tumble—Week 3 brought a season-altering loss that no one expected for a variety of reasons. The ranked teams that fell will undoubtedly have better days, perhaps as early as next week. But for the teams that did the upsetting, particularly the ones that are often left out of the national conversation, this Saturday was all about them seizing the moment—a moment we didn't think much of—and making the most of it.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the AP Top 25 After Week 3

On the surface, Week 3 of the college football season didn’t look particularly exciting. There was only one matchup between two Associated Press Top 25 teams, with No. 6 Georgia traveling to No. 24 South Carolina. And only three Top 25 teams were less than double-digit favorites over their opponents.

Then, the games started, and we were proven wrong.

Two teams that started the week ranked among the nation’s Top 10 fell, and there were a number of other exciting games.

There will be a significant shakeup in this week’s Top 25 when the polls are released Sunday afternoon. That’s the beauty of college football. It can surprise you when you least expect it.

Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 4 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself. Predictions are made under the assumption that all remaining Week 3 games finish as betting spreads would indicate.

 

Fun Facts

Maybe we should have seen South Carolina’s 38-35 upset of Georgia coming. The Gamecocks win marked the third consecutive season that the lower-ranked team has won this important SEC East matchup. In 2012, the No. 6 Gamecocks rolled No. 5 Georgia, 35-7, and last fall, No. 11 Georgia beat No. 6 South Carolina, 41-30, in Athens.

North Carolina was off this week, but moves into the rankings: the Tar Heels are 2-0 and dropped out of last week’s rankings after barely surviving San Diego State at home. The Heels and Nebraska were the first 2-0 teams to drop out of the rankings since 2009. Staying in the ranks won’t be easy, as UNC must travel to East Carolina, which is coming off an upset win at Virginia Tech.

 

Teams Rising  

South Carolina

One game into the 2014 season, South Carolina looked like an afterthought as an SEC contender. The Gamecocks looked awful in a 52-28 home loss to Texas A&M, which snapped their 18-game home winning streak.

Funny what a visit from a rival can do. The Gamecocks survived a rain-soaked slugfest and hung on to nip Georgia, 38-35. Even though star tailback Mike Davis had just 66 yards on 17 carries, backup Brandon Wilds was more than capable, going for 93 yards and a score while averaging 6.6 yards per carry.  Quarterback Dylan Thompson showed consistent downfield touch in passing for 271 yards and three touchdowns.

In the process, the Gamecocks took early control of the SEC East. If you wrote them off, it might be time to rethink that notion.

 

BYU

As an independent, BYU will have a difficult time making one of the College Football Playoff’s suite of bowls: the Cougars are not eligible for the Group of Five spot that is allocated for one non-Power Five team. But they’re going to make the nation take notice.

Following Thursday’s 33-25 win over Houston, BYU is 3-0 for the first time since 2008. Quarterback Taysom Hill is an impressive dual threat. He had 360 yards of total offense Thursday, including 160 yards rushing, and accounted for two touchdowns.  Next week, BYU hosts Virginia, but the biggest roadblocks to a run that would make the nation take notice are October trips to Central Florida and Boise State.

Could an independent make the four-team College Football Playoff field? The Cougars want America to have that debate.

 

LSU

It isn’t necessarily what the Tigers did this week, although they weren’t challenged in a 31-0 rout of a Louisiana-Monroe team that already owned a win over Wake Forest. But with two higher-ranked teams, Southern California and Georgia, losing on Saturday, Les Miles and Co. will move into the Top 10 this week.

Miles appears to have settled on a starting quarterback. Sophomore Anthony Jennings didn’t throw a touchdown, but completed 11 of 18 passes for 139 yards with an interception. Freshman Brandon Harris attempted only two passes, completing one for 14 yards.

The Tigers appear poised to stay in the Top 10 for the next few weeks, at least. They don’t hit the road until an Oct. 4 visit to Auburn, with Mississippi State and New Mexico State coming to Baton Rouge next.  By the time LSU heads out for that crucial SEC West tilt, it should be 5-0 and perhaps ranked even higher.

 

Nebraska

After barely escaping FCS foe McNeese State at home, the Cornhuskers dropped out of the rankings. But they found their way back in following a dominant win at hapless Fresno State.

Nebraska wasn’t challenged, and senior tailback Ameer Abdullah surpassed his entire rushing output from last week on one 57-yard touchdown run. Home games with Miami (Fla.) and Illinois are up next on the docket, which will determine if the Huskers can build on this new Top 25 foothold.

 

Teams Falling

 

Louisville

Most expected Louisville to take some lumps in its first year of ACC play. Few expected that to happen on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. The No. 21 Cardinals are headed out of the Top 25 after dropping a surprising 23-21 decision at Virginia.

Virginia, 2-10 in 2013, won its first game against FBS competition since defeating BYU last Aug. 31. Louisville’s damage was largely self-inflicted. The Cardinals rallied from a 20-7 deficit to take a one-point lead with 6:59 to go, but James Quick fumbled a punt at his own 25, with Virginia recovering. That set up Ian Frye’s third field goal of the game, the game-winner, with 3:41 left.

The Cardinals had four turnovers and there might be some question about the quarterback position after Reggie Bonnafon briefly relieved starter Will Gardner. Regardless, it’s clear that this won’t be an easy road for Louisville with Florida State, Clemson and Notre Dame still ahead on the schedule.

 

Virginia Tech

One week after handing Ohio State its first home loss since 2011, Virginia Tech came crashing back to earth Saturday with a 28-21 home loss to East Carolina. The Hokies erased a two-touchdown fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game at 21 with 1:20 remaining, but couldn’t stop the Pirates on the ensuing drive that covered 65 yards in just 64 seconds. Senior quarterback Shane Carden scored the winning touchdown on a one-yard run.

Carden also torched Bud Foster’s defense for 427 yards. It was ECU’s first road win over a ranked opponent since 1996. The Hokies lost for the fourth time in the last five home games after beating a ranked team, and the good will from the big win in Columbus is gone.

Frank Beamer’s team can still win the wide-open ACC Coastal Division: Georgia Tech visits next week and Tech doesn’t have a league road game until going to North Carolina Oct. 4. But Michael Brewer (who threw two interceptions to go with his three touchdowns must be more efficient if the Hokies have any hopes of making it to Charlotte for the ACC title game.

 

Georgia

Following a rousing 45-21 win over Clemson, the Bulldogs moved into the Top 10 and looked like an early contender for a College Football Playoff spot. Those hopes came crashing back to earth Saturday in Columbia, South Carolina. A disappointing 38-35 loss to rival South Carolina called into question the Bulldogs’ hopes of winning the SEC East, much less a national championship.

Georgia’s offense was sharp, with Heisman Trophy candidate Todd Gurley rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. But quarterback Hutson Mason made a crucial mistake late, losing 10 yards on a silly intentional grounding call after the Bulldogs had a 1st-and-goal at the South Carolina 4-yard line.

And kicker Marshall Morgan, who set an SEC record for most consecutive field goals made earlier in the game, missed two attempts, including a 28-yarder pushed wide right that would’ve tied the game.

It’s early, but the Bulldogs defense must improve. South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson torched the secondary for 271 yards and three touchdowns.

 

 

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

Another crazy week of college football has made it so that we should count on two things this fall: It's going to be wild and wacky, and the rankings are going to get jumbled each and every weekend.

Two teams from last week's Top 10 plummeted because of road losses, while others that were lower in the previous poll have jumped thanks to big victories. This seems like it's going to be par for the course in 2014, where after three weeks we're already down to just 33 unbeaten teams out of 128 playing at the FBS level.

This week's Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 18 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman 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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How Hot Is Florida HC Will Muschamp's Seat After Almost Losing to Kentucky?

The Florida Gators are now 2-0 after a very close 36-30, 3OT win against the Kentucky Wildcats. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss how worried Florida coach Will Muschamp should be about his coaching position. How well do you think the Gators will do this year?

Watch the video and let us know.

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UCLA Football: Bruins Put Together Best Performance in Time for Pac-12 Play

The 20-17 final score of No. 12 UCLA's win at Texas may not show it, but the Bruins had their best all-around performance thus far into the 2014 season—and they did so just in time for the start of the Pac-12 Conference season.

Playing in place of star quarterback Brett Hundley, who injured his elbow in the first quarter, back-up Jerry Neuheisel stepped up to deliver a 33-yard strike to wide receiver Jordan Payton to cap UCLA's most complete of a sometimes inconsistent opening stretch of games.

A stingy effort from the defense and a reliable running attack buoyed the Bruins with their Heisman Trophy candidate sidelined. The combination is a big step forward before embarking on the conference slate.

UCLA had promising play on sides of the ball prior to Saturday's win...just not in the same game. There was plenty, however, for head coach Jim Mora and his staff to build on from the efforts of both the UCLA offense and defense against Texas.

Certainly Saturday's win was not the prettiest. Texas came into Saturday's contest in Arlington, Texas, one week removed from a 41-7 thrashing by Brigham Young—the Longhorns' worst home defeat since UCLA crushed them 66-3 in 1997.

However, Texas took the fight to the Hundley-less Bruins for all 60 minutes, even taking the lead with a little more than five minutes remaining when quarterback Tyrone Swoopes found wide receiver John Harris in the end zone.

UCLA responded with the necessary resolve, overcoming adversity to beat a desperate opponent.

Mora talked of the importance of the win in his postgame press conference, via UCLABruins.com:

We just felt like this was an opportunity for us to put all the work that we've done over the course of the last year or three years on display and really prove it to ourselves, beyond anyone else, what this team was made of.  And I think that we went out and did that.

Neuheisel's touchdown pass was the difference-maker, but Texas having to contend with the Bruins on the ground helped make it happen.

Running back Paul Perkins continued his development into a viable, No. 1 option with a career-high 126 yards. Meanwhile, Jordon James had his best outing since injuring his ankle in early October 2013, going for 69 yards on eight carries.

Helping pave the way for the Bruins' ball-carriers was an offensive line, which ESPN.com's Ted Miller tweeted, was oft-criticized in UCLA's first two outings.

The appearance of the consistent and multifaceted run game Mora said he wanted earlier this week is a major development for the UCLA offense heading into Pac-12 play. The Bruins were inconsistent with their rushing attack a season ago, but the UCLA offense is quickly finding the necessary balance to give Hundley breathing room in the passing attack when he returns to full strength.

When that might be, time will tell. Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily Newstweeted that the quarterback will have an MRI on his elbow tomorrow.

UCLA gets 12 days for Hundley to recover. The Bruins are headed into a bye week before traveling to Arizona State for a crucial Pac-12 showdown Sept. 25.

In the meantime, Neuheisel provided the kind of calming influence a team playing its reserve quarterback needs. Though he was limited primarily to swing routes, bubble screens and assorted other short-yardage pass plays, he avoided catastrophe.

Most importantly, he delivered the big play when it was most needed.

The Bruins coming together to carry Neuheisel off the field after the final whistle could be remembered as a pivotal moment in their season. The team rallied amid adversity and delivered in two areas that were decided question marks in their first two games, and finished the nonconference slate undefeated.

Hundley was the missing element from UCLA putting together a truly complete game. Should he come back in time for the start of Pac-12 competition, the Bruins appear to be hitting their stride at just the right time.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled via UCLABruins.com.

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UCLA Football: Bruins Put Together Best Performance in Time for Pac-12 Play

The 20-17 final score of No. 12 UCLA's win at Texas may not show it, but the Bruins had their best all-around performance thus far into the 2014 season—and they did so just in time for the start of the Pac -12 Conference season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 3

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 Michael Felder makes his predictions on who he thinks deserves to be in the hunt after Week 3.

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

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The Poetic Justice of Rick Neuheisel's Son Saving UCLA's Season

It’s natural to suspect that the relationship between UCLA coach Jim Mora and Bruins backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel was not warm and fuzzy from the start.

Mora is the man who was hired in 2012 to replace Neuheisel’s father Rick as the Bruins coach.

And every time the new Bruins coach blew his whistle or drew up a play there was no escaping the fact Jerry was missing out on what could have been an incredible series of father-son moments. 

But if there was any strain or tension between them, it no doubt vaporized Saturday night when Neuheisel led the No. 12 Bruins to an improbable 20-17 comeback victory against Texas.

“It was really hard,” Neuheisel told the Daily Bruin last April. “You get angry all the time and you hate how things change. It’s hard ’cause it’s your family, and you wish it happened to you, but it happened to him.”

But the saving grace, Neuheisel told the Daily Bruin, was that Mora “said he’d always have my back and he’d always give me a chance. As a quarterback, that’s all you can ask for.”

Mora proved he was a man of his word on Saturday, but he really had no choice. Starting quarterback Brett Hundley, a Heisman Trophy hopeful who already is under the NFL microscope, was lost for the night after suffering a first-quarter injury to his left, non-throwing elbow. UCLA needed a new man under center, and Neuheisel was next up on the depth chart.

So here they were, two guys who could have had an adversarial relationship, suddenly needing each other in the worst way.

When Neuheisel admitted to his coach he was nervous, Mora said he responded with a firm vote of confidence.

“And Jerry told me, he said, I was nervous,” Mora explained at his press conference. “And I said, you know what? I wasn't. Because I've watched you every day. And I've watched you prepare. And I know how smart you are. And I know your lineage. And I know how your dad taught you. And I think it all paid off for him tonight.”

Neuheisel told Fox Sports in his post-game interview that the Bruins coaches “just kept me calm.”

Calm enough to throw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton with 3:00 left to rally the 3-0 Bruins who had fallen behind 17-13 with 5:13 remaining.

And for once the “Jerry’s World” nickname of AT&T Stadium belonged to someone other than Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Mora said one thing that links him and Neuheisel, which helped make the transition easier, is that both he and his backup quarterback are coaches’ sons. Mora’s father, Jim Mora Sr., had notable runs as a head coach with the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, even though he now is perhaps best known for the beer commercial in which he shouts “Playoffs?” in a squeaky voice.

Mora discussed that common ground in his postgame interview with reporters, saying: 

He's a coach's kid. He grew up in this game. You know? We're the same, man. We're the same people. You know? And that's what we talked about the first week I took this job, when -- you know, this was going to be a hard transition for a guy like Jerry. His dad, who's a legend here, had been released. You know? And that's the game of football. That's the sport that we're in. It's tough. It happens. But Jerry has never, ever, ever, ever, ever let that get in the way of being an amazing young man, an amazing teammate, team member. And I just have confidence in him.

For the redshirt sophomore, it was a fitting coming-out party that in some ways echoed his father’s story as a UCLA quarterback.

Rick Neuheisel didn’t take a single practice rep his first two years after coming to Westwood as a walk-on. When he did finally get in games it was as a holder on kicks, the same minimal role Jerry had largely been limited to until Saturday.

“(My dad) says it sucks,” Jerry said in his Daily Bruin interview. “Quarterback’s one of those positions where only one guy gets to play and it’s hard. You know with one guy getting to play, you sit a lot and you see plays where you’re like, ‘Oh I could make that.’ And that’s just the competitor in you.”

The competitor in Jerry showed up quite nicely against Texas, and kept the undefeated Bruins in the hunt for a playoff spot. He finished the night 23-for-30 for 178 yards, with two touchdown passes and no interceptions. Those are all career highs for Neuheisel, who last season was limited to 11-of-13 coming off the bench.

Patience no doubt is in his DNA.

His father bided his time at UCLA and eventually was the winning quarterback and MVP of the 1984 Rose Bowl. But he took a bumpy road to that accomplishment. During the 1983 season he was benched at one point in favor of Steve Bono but managed to regain his starting role.

Jerry also likely will be headed back to the bench soon, unless Hundley’s injury is a serious one.

But for one night it was all on Neuheisel, and Mora said the potential for a fairytale ending crossed his mind when he sent in his backup quarterback.

“My first thought was excitement for Jerry Neuheisel,” Mora said at his press conference. “I mean, this kid is everything that's right about college football and about UCLA. I mean, he bleeds Bruin blue. And I just thought, wow, you couldn't write a better script than this right here. You know?”

We do now.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kentucky vs. Florida: Game Grades, Analysis for Wildcats and Gators

In what will likely be one of the most exciting college football matchups this season, the Florida Gators were able to get the 36-30 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night.

It wasn’t pretty for Florida throughout the entire game, but the victory is all that matters. What appeared to be a defensive battle early in the game turned into a shootout in the second half.

Kentucky played much better than most folks expected and got solid play from the quarterback position. Patrick Towles, in his third career start, threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns. Despite three interceptions, Towles made plays and put the Wildcats in a position to win.

Florida will need to shore up the defensive issues we saw Saturday night, because next week the Gators will travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide.

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

Kentucky Wildcats Game Grades

Passing Offense: Towles played well throughout the game, and his good plays made up for his bad ones. He threw three interceptions, but one of them only happened after his receiver dropped the pass.

Towles took advantage of a questionable performance from Florida's secondary and surprised many people with his final stats.

Rushing Offense: The Wildcats were able to get a decent effort in the run game from Braylon Heard and Jojo Kemp, but overall it wasn't a big performance on the ground. The Wildcats finished with 81 total rushing yards on 33 carries, so the majority of the offense came from the passing game.

Pass Defense: The Wildcats played well in the first half and even came up with a big interception. In the second half, the Gators were able to do big things though the air, so this unit doesn't grade out as well in the end.

Run Defense: The Gators were able to get yards on the ground pretty much all night. While there weren't a ton of big gains, the Wildcats were eventually wore down by the tough runs.

Special Teams: We saw some good things in the kicking/punting game from the Wildcats, but the final kick is the one Kentucky fans will remember. Austin MacGinnis finished the night 3-of-4 on his field goals.

Coaching: It was a great effort from head coach Mark Stoops and company Saturday night, as the Wildcats almost pulled off the upset victory. Stoops has clearly changed the mindset of this team, which now plays physically and aggressively on both sides of the ball.

I thought Stoops managed the game well, and his assistants did a solid job too.

Florida Gators Game Grades

Passing Offense: It wasn't pretty in the first half, but the overall performance from Jeff Driskel Saturday night wasn't bad. He looked out of rhythm in the first two quarters, but he was able to make some big plays down the stretch for the Gators.

Rushing Offense: The Gators were also able to get good contributions from the rushing attack. Matt Jones led all rushers with 156 yards, and Florida was able to total 237 total rushing yards.

The Gators were able to pound out yardage when they needed it, and Jones was very physical in this game.

Pass Defense: The secondary is one of the issues that Florida will need to address before they take on Alabama next Saturday. Even though the unit came up with three interceptions, it allowed too many big plays through the air.

Run Defense: The run defense was pretty effective for the Gators. The front seven, led by Dante Fowler Jr., was able to get good penetration and kept Kentucky's rushing totals low.

Special Teams: Florida played well in this area. One of the big plays was the kick return from Andre Debose that set the Gators up with good field position, but punter Kyle Christy was effective also. He averaged 48.7 yards per punt in the game, including a 61-yard punt.

Coaching: People still have Will Muschamp on the hot seat, but all that matters is he got the victory. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper made some good adjustments at halftime, which helped Florida break away offensively in the second half.

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Tennessee vs. Oklahoma: Game Grades, Analysis for Vols and Sooners

Trevor Knight and the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners secured a statement victory on Saturday night, defeating the Tennessee Volunteers 34-10 in Memorial Stadium.

The Sooners' explosive offense turned in another solid performance, piling up 453 yards against an improved Volunteers defense. Tennessee struggled to move the ball against Oklahoma, managing just 311 total yards in the 24-point loss.

How did the Volunteers and Sooners grade out?

 

Tennessee Volunteers Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Justin Worley had an impressive first half, completing 12-of-19 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. Things unraveled in the second half, though, as he missed on 16 of his 24 pass attempts and threw two costly interceptions. To Worley’s credit, he was under constant pressure all night from Oklahoma’s stout defensive line.

 

Run Offense: Tennessee’s rush offense was overwhelmed by Oklahoma’s front seven Saturday night. Jalen Hurd had a pair of nice runs in the second half, but those were the only notable plays from a forgettable performance. Hurd finished with 99 yards on 14 carries, but the offensive line failed to open any consistent lanes up front. 

 

Pass Defense: Tennessee had trouble containing Oklahoma's dynamic passing attack, especially early. The Sooners threw for 229 yards in the first half, but managed just 79 yards in the second half. The second half dip had more to do with Oklahoma trying to grind the game out on the ground, though, as the Sooners were protecting a big lead.

 

Run Defense: Linebacker A.J. Johnson was all over the field, leading an inspired effort as he notched 11 total tackles and two tackles for loss for the Volunteers, according to Oklahoma's official website. He made things hard for Oklahoma, which failed to get a ball-carrier over the 75-yard mark. Tennessee held the Sooners to just 64 rushing yards in the first half and 82 in the second.

 

Special Teams: It was an unspectacular day for the Volunteers' special teams. Dervin Young averaged 20 yards on three kickoff returns and Cameron Sutton took his only punt return three yards. In the third quarter, Aaron Medley connected on his only field-goal attempt, drilling a 31-yard kick.

 

Coaching: It looked like the team was executing Butch Jones' game plan in the first half as Tennessee trailed Oklahoma 13-7 late in the second quarter. But the wheels came off after the Volunteers gave up a touchdown right before the break. The offense failed to make any adjustments in the second half as Oklahoma just overwhelmed the Tennessee offense all game.

 

Oklahoma Sooners Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Knight turned in another great performance, completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 308 yards and a touchdown against one interception. Sterling Shepard solidified himself as Knight's top target, but Durron Neal continues to prove himself as a competent complement and Blake Bell is a formidable tight end.

 

Run Offense: Oklahoma came into the game averaging 222 rushing yards per game, but Tennessee was its stiffest test of the year. The Sooners failed to break a huge run and averaged just 4.3 yards per carry, and star running back Keith Ford gained just 56 yards on 15 carries.

 

Pass Defense: Tennessee’s young offensive line had no chance of blocking Oklahoma’s defensive front. The Sooners notched five sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Worley. They also picked off two passes, one of which was returned 100 yards for a touchdown.

 

Run Defense: The Sooners bull-rushed an inexperienced offensive front. The Volunteers rushed for -10 yards in the first half, but Oklahoma gave up a couple of big runs to Hurd in the second. It was still a very impressive performance from the Sooners, who gave up just 112 rushing yards on 33 carries.

 

Special Teams: Outside of a slightly subpar outing from the run offense, Oklahoma's only big letdown came from its special teams. The kick returners turned in an ordinary performance. Jed Barnett averaged just 38 yards per punt. And worst of all, field-goal kicker Michael Hunnicutt had one of his three field-goal attempts blocked.

 

Coaching: With this kind of talent and experience differential, one of Oklahoma's top priorities was to simplify the scheme and execute. That's exactly what Bob Stoops and the Sooners did in the 24-point victory. There was no need to do anything crazy defensively because the Volunteers couldn't block Oklahoma's defensive front. Offensively, Knight guided the Sooners to an efficient and near mistake-free performance. That helped Oklahoma coast to its third victory of the season.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.

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Rice vs. Texas A&M: Game Grades, Analysis for the Aggies

The Rice Owls may have exposed more issues than the Texas A&M Aggies would've liked them to, particularly a suspect run defense. But ultimately, Kenny Hill and Co. took care of the Owls without too much trouble with a solid 38-10 win to move to 3-0 on the season. 

A boxscore of the game can be found at NCAA.com

With that, let's check out the game grades for Texas A&M's positional units. 

 

Texas A&M Game Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Kenny Hill was up to what is now his usual tricks against Rice, passing for exactly 300 yards and four touchdowns on 20-of-31 passing. Hill also became the first player in school history to pass for over 1,000 yards over the first three games of the season. Kyle Allen threw the pick at the end of the game, but it's unfair to judge the Aggies' passing attack based on anything Allen does since it'll be Hill under center when push comes to shove. 

 

Rush Offense: One-hundred and sixty-eight yards on the ground for a team that is pass first, pass second then run is quite respectable. The Aggies were able to break off a few big plays on the ground, including a near-touchdown run by Hill in the third quarter. Tra Carson and Brandon Williams both showed flashes as well, and it looks like the Aggies will be able, at least to some degree, to rely on the run to take pressure off of Hill. 

 

Pass Defense: Believe it or not, the Aggies were going up against a very capable quarterback in Driphus Jackson. But the Aggies limited him to 212 yards and one touchdown on a blown coverage on 32 passing attempts. There's no doubt that the secondary for the Aggies is the pride of its defense. 

 

Rush Defense: No doubt this unit's performance was hindered by the injury to Alonzo Williams on the game's first drive. But Rice actually controlled the pace of this game for much of the first half because of its rushing attack. The Owls out gained the Aggies on the ground 240-168. When Texas A&M goes up against SEC competition that can actually finish drives, this rush defense could be a huge weakness. 

 

Special Teams: Josh Lambo blasted a 47-yard field goal down the middle of the uprights and punter Drew Kaser averaged 43 yards on four punts. Not much to say really about this unit, because everything went right. 

 

Coaching: There wasn't any noticeable coaching mistakes besides maybe at the end of the first half when the "hold them back" coach didn't hold back the Aggies on the sideline after a blocked field goal, which resulted in a touchdown being taken off the board. Even that's hard to peg on the coaching staff. Rice wasn't a hard team to beat, but the Aggies left no doubt in the end. 

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Can UCLA QB Jerry Neuheisel Lead Offense After Brett Hundley Injury?

UCLA backup QB Jerry Neuheisel stepped in to lead the Bruins to a 20-17 victory over the Texas Longhorns after Brett Hundley left with an apparent elbow injury.

Bleacher Report College Football analyst Adam Kramer grades Neuheisel's performance against the Longhorns.

Can he continue his success in the future?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Can UCLA QB Jerry Neuheisel Lead Offense After Brett Hundley Injury?

UCLA backup QB Jerry Neuheisel stepped in to lead the Bruins to a 20-17 victory over the Texas Longhorns after Brett Hundley left with an apparent elbow injury ...

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Taylor Kelly Injury: Updates on ASU QB's Foot and Return

Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly left Saturday's Pac-12 South clash with Colorado due to a right foot injury.

Doug Haller of AZCentral.com reported on the unfortunate development for Arizona State's senior signal-caller:

FOX Sports' Tyler Lockman has more:

Haller added more from Todd Graham:

Comcast SportsNet's John Middlekauff replied with his input on what Kelly's loss could mean for the Sun Devils:

ESPNU highlighted the star power the Sun Devils have on offense before the game began:

UCLA coach Jim Mora has praised Kelly for his grit, suggesting that Saturday's injury that caused him to leave the field may be an ominous sign.

"Tough as nails," said Mora, via AZCentral.com's Haller. "I have a great amount of respect for him. He's one of my favorite players in the conference."

Kelly is no doubt a vital part of the team amid his third year starting under center. Before leaving Saturday's contest, he'd thrown for three touchdowns and even scampered for a 50-yard score to fortify Arizona State's big lead.

Redshirt junior Mike Bercovici figures to be the next man up to fill in for Kelly (h/t Ourlads.com). Bercovici has thrown just 20 career passes, though, so his inexperience makes what was a solidified QB position a wild-card area of alarm for ASU should Kelly's foot ailment be of the severe variety.

As long as the Sun Devils can lean on standout running back D.J. Foster and get the ball to star receiver Jaelen Strong, they may be able to weather Kelly's absence in the short term.

However, once Arizona State gets into the thick of the Pac-12 schedule, it would obviously be ideal for Kelly to lead the charge.

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Tennessee's Showing vs. Oklahoma Should Give Vols Fans Faith

Despite the lopsided final deficit, two crushing interceptions in the end zone and an offensive line performance that left quarterback Justin Worley a walking bruise, Tennessee's direction was evident against Oklahoma.

The Volunteers are getting better in a hurry.

Head coach Butch Jones' youthful team isn't anywhere near where it wants to be yet, but the Vols battled all night at Memorial Stadium before succumbing 34-10 against the fourth-ranked Sooners.

As a matter of fact, there were several ulcer-inducing moments for Oklahoma well into the fourth quarter. 

Despite getting blitzed on the scoreboard early and blitzed by the Sooners' sterling defense throughout the game, the Vols kept clawing. That resilient mentality evident in such an inexperienced team was not lost on anybody who watched the game, including a skeptical national media.

The Vols created several huge opportunities for themselves. Like many young teams, though, they just couldn't capitalize.

Even so, the game wasn't completely in hand for the Sooners until there was about 10 minutes remaining.

Trailing 27-10, Tennessee moved the ball deep into Sooners territory. The Vols faced a 3rd-and-2 from Oklahoma's 4-yard line when Worley tried to make something happen, forcing the ball into double coverage.

A hundred yards later, Julian Wilson had a game-clinching pick-six that ended what slim hopes UT may have had for pulling off an upset.

That play may have squelched the night's hope, but not the season's—or the program's.

If anything, the Vols have to be encouraged by a young team that battled adversity and kept forcing chances.

The Sooners turned UT away with two end-zone picks, but that shouldn't undermine Worley's gutsy performance. Despite being battered and beaten by OU's relentless pursuit, the senior quarterback hung in tough and kept getting up off the ground.

Once, he even looked like he could have been concussed when his head bounced against the turf, but he was right back in the huddle the next series and finished 21-of-44 for 201 yards and a score.

Anybody with questions about Worley as UT's quarterback should have had them answered Saturday.

Also, Tennessee's young defense may have had its share of busted coverages and big plays allowed, but it also kept the Vols close for much of the game by forcing turnovers and bending more often than breaking when the Vols' stagnant offense kept giving it a short field.

Though it looked like the Vols would be blown out early, they weathered a 13-0 Oklahoma flurry to start the game and cut the lead to six late in the second quarter when a questionable call really changed momentum.

OU freshman running back Samaje Perine appeared to lose possession of the ball on the UT 26-yard line, pinning it against his side. Vols cornerback Cameron Sutton recovered the would-be fumble, but after the review, officials deemed Perine was down.

Three plays later, OU scored another touchdown to take a 20-7 halftime lead.

It was that kind of night for the Vols, who did enough to keep the game respectable but were simply outclassed and unlucky. UT didn't do itself any favors, either.

Worley was sacked five times by the Sooners and hurried or hit on several other dropbacks. The offensive line had no answer for Eric Striker and an Oklahoma front seven that was breathing down Worley's neck within a couple of seconds after the snap.

Freshman right tackle Coleman Thomas made his first career start and struggled. So did freshman tight end Daniel Helm, who also had his issues in protection. They weren't alone as Oklahoma applied pressure on Worley from every direction.

Tennessee's biggest weakness entering the game was exposed by the Sooners defense.

The Vols had minus-14 total rushing yards until Jalen Hurd broke free for a 43-yard run in the third quarter. Until that burst, the offensive line simply failed to open any holes for Tennessee running backs.

Like the prevailing theme of the night, however, Tennessee got better.

The Vols finished with a paltry 112 rushing yards, led by Hurd's 97 yards on 14 carries, but that's not awful considering where they were so late in the game. For an offense that struggled for much of three quarters, to begin to find some positive things in the run game was important.

Many times it looked like Oklahoma would demoralize the Vols, but a team that has already played 22 freshmen this year never got embarrassed. 

A 24-point setback (three more than the Oddsshark.com closing line) was not what the Vols wanted, and there have been so many losses lately that moral victories cease to exist. But there were building blocks between the bumps and bruises.

This team is going to take its lumps, but in an SEC East that appears wide open, a talented group of youngsters with as much fight as Tennessee showed Saturday night can make some noise. 

Junior offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson was impressed with his youthful teammates.

The Vols may not play a better team all season than they did on Saturday against the deep, talented, disruptive Sooners. They traveled to Norman with two offensive weapons in Von Pearson and Ethan Wolf never leaving the sideline, weathered some serious storms and got in some punches.

It wasn't nearly enough, but nobody really expected it would be.

Bob Stoops has built an impressive program at OU over the course of his career, and Jones is just starting to construct his at Tennessee.

For extended periods of time on Saturday, the Vols showed they're on the right track.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics gathered from UTSports.com and observations obtained firsthand. All recruiting information from 247Sports.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

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Arkansas' Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams Win CFB's Top Performers for Week 3

The Arkansas running backs absolutely dominated Week 3, giving them the honors of our College Football top performers. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down their monstrous day. Can they keep it up?

Watch the video and let us know.

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USC Football: Is a Pac-12 Title Still Within Reach After Boston College Loss?

If No. 9 USC is to contend for a Pac-12 title in 2014, it has plenty of questions to address coming off Saturday’s 37-31 upset loss at Boston College.

Going into the Week 3 contest, Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian said on his weekly conference call that USC had plenty of areas for improvement. An emotionally charged Boston College team exposed those problem areas, giving USC’s Pac-12 opponents a blueprint for taking down the Trojans.

In particular, the Eagles’ use of the zone read kept the USC defense back on its heel for most of the night. Stopping the run was a decided strength of the Trojans in their Week 2 win at Stanford; against Boston College, they gave up a staggering 508 yards, 453 of which were on the ground.

The Eagles gained nearly as many rushing yards in one half as the Trojans’ first two opponents combined.

Dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy’s mobility proved especially problematic for the off-balance Trojans. His career-high 190 rushing yards are cause for concern for coordinator Justin Wilcox’s defense as USC heads into the meat of its Pac-12 season.

The Trojans will see numerous, similarly skilled quarterbacks in conference play—two of whom, Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and UCLA’s Brett Hundley, gave USC fits a season ago.

Obviously, USC is well acquainted with the abilities of Kelly and Hundley. But the Trojans also knew about Murphy heading into Saturday's contest.

Freshman quarterback Jalen Greene, a dual-threat playmaker in high school, operated as the USC scout team's version of him in practice during the week. Wilcox must find a way for the undermanned defense to contend with the Pac-12's zone-read quarterbacks if USC is to have any hope of winning the league.

On the other side of the ball, the young offensive line that was a positive in the Trojans’ two wins was a liability.

Sarkisian said last week that despite the line's overall solid play at Stanford, the unit remained a work-in-progress. Saturday night was a reminder that this unit starts two true freshmen on the interior, three first-time starters, and that one of the returners, Max Tuerk, was moved to center out of necessity.

Eagles defensive coordinator Don Brown brought a variety of blitz packages, and the resulting pressure on quarterback Cody Kessler rendered him ineffective on passing downs.

That USC routinely faced 3rd-and-long contributed to its woes—and that was the result of an ineffective run game.

Boston College's ability to clog running back Javorius "Buck" Allen's lanes was a difference-maker during the Eagles' decisive 24-0 run, which spanned most of the second and third quarters.

USC is a run-first offensive team, setting up the big-yardage pass plays through play action once the rush is established. The Trojans running backs can only be as effective as the offensive line allows. Without major improvement after Saturday's effort, USC's Pac-12 title outlook is murky.

The good news for Sarkisian and Co. is that they are headed into a bye week. USC gets 14 days to remedy its issues from Saturday's in loss, in preparation for a Sept. 27 matchup with Oregon State.

While the defense has little positive to take from Saturday's loss, Kessler's connection with tight ends Bryce Dixon and Randall Telfer is one potential building block for the offense going forward. A pass-catching tight end has long been a cornerstone of Sarkisian's offense, and USC's duo combined for 60 yards.

And while Allen was limited in the run game, he caught nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Allen will be a handful for opposing defenses when both facets of his game are clicking.

The Pac-12 title remains an attainable goal for USC, but don't expect the Trojans to look too far ahead after Saturday's upset, as safety Su'a Cravens told Michael Lev of the Orange County Register:

USC's attention for the next two weeks will be on taking just one step in the remaining Pac-12 chase.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via Yahoo Sports.  

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