The only way Texas will be able to reach a bowl this season is by knocking off a Top 25 opponent. This week's home matchup with No. 24 West Virginia would be a great move toward a strong finish.
West Virginia has been one of 2014's biggest surprises, riding its all-around offensive attack and stingy secondary to a 6-3 record, with all three losses coming against Top 10 teams. Based on that strength of schedule and a statement win over Baylor, the Mountaineers are one of the few three-loss teams left in the rankings.
That's bad news for the Longhorns, who have struggled with West Virginia's peers of late. Per The Austin-American Statesman's Brian Davis, the Longhorns are 4-19 against ranked teams since 2010, coming up empty all four times this season.
For Texas to reverse that trend, it will need to win at least three of its five key matchups. And it starts with slowing down the Mountaineers' best offensive player.
Although it was nervy for a while, the No. 21 Clemson Tigers were able to pull out the victory on the road against a feisty Wake Forest team by a score of 34-20.
The Tigers outgained the Demon Deacons 427 to 119 in terms of total offense. Signal-caller Cole Stoudt threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns on the evening. Running back Wayne Gallman chipped in with 106 yards on the ground, including one rushing touchdown and a receiving score.
Dave Clawson's team put up a valiant effort in the loss. Undermanned, the Demon Deacons went toe-to-toe with the Tigers for three quarters—until Clemson pulled away in the fourth quarter.
A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. Check out first-half grades and final grades for the Clemson Tigers. Additional analysis for position units will also be addressed.
Clemson Tigers Analysis
In the first half, Clemson didn't look to attack down the field very often. Credit Wake Forest for applying some pressure on Stoudt. However, in the second half, Clemson's signal-caller was very effective. He finished with 282 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Stoudt began to spread the ball around efficiently to his talented receiver corps. Eight Clemson receivers caught passes on the night. Artavis Scott in particular was explosive. The freshman led the team with eight receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Clemson was fooled on a trick play early in the first quarter. However, the Tigers challenged the Wake Forest receivers at the line of scrimmage—daring Wake quarterback John Wolford to beat Clemson deep. On the night, Wake Forest's longest pass play went for 24 yards—and it was on the reception to Wolford from receiver Jared Crump.
Clemson held Wake Forest to 112 passing yards on 30 attempts. This is an outstanding and highly productive effort.
Wake Forest did a very good job of bottling up Clemson's rushing efforts in the first half. The Tigers rushed for only 26 yards. Staying true to their usual form this year, Clemson ran the ball much better in the second half.
Gallman finished with 106 yards on 19 carries. The team as a whole rushed for 145 yards on 37 carries. While it wasn't a banner evening, the offense got much-needed balance in the second portion of the game.
Wake Forest entered the game as the nation's worst team running the football. On average, the Demon Deacons rush for 34.5 yards a game. In the first quarter alone, the team piled up 30 yards. Wake was actually getting a decent push against Clemson's vaunted defensive front.
However, this quickly subsided. Pressure up front from Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley (among others) offered little time for the ground game to get its legs going. The negative plays (via sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage) crippled the Demon Deacons' rushing attack.
For the night, Wake rushed for seven yards on 34 carries.
The muffed punt by Adam Humphries was poor. He should have let the punt go over his head, as opposed to battling a wind gust for the ball. It was exacerbated even further, as Wake Forest ended up scoring a touchdown off of the turnover.
Kicker Ammon Lakip was solid on the evening, as he connected on both of his field-goal attempts.
The staff didn't utilize the considerable speed advantage it had on offense. Early on, there really wasn't much of an effort to test Wake Forest deep, nor was there an attempt to get the receivers in space. However, the third-down screen pass in the second quarter to Gallman for a touchdown was a very nice play call by offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
Defensively, Clemson stood steadfast in its plan to press the Demon Deacons at the line of scrimmage—while rarely mixing things up coverage-wise.
In the second half, Morris made much more of a concerted effort to find balance on offense. By beginning to run the football with effectiveness, it opened up the passing game. The receivers were lined up in different spots, and the Tigers were able to exploit some mismatches on the perimeter.
Defensively, Brent Venables did a nice job of becoming more diverse in his coverage calls. This helped to confused Wake Forest's inexperienced offense.
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Urban Meyer and the Ohio State football team have had 11 months to linger on the devastating and gut-wrenching upset loss they suffered to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game last December.
This Saturday, the Buckeyes will finally get a chance at redemption when they hit the road for a prime-time matchup against the Spartans in East Lansing.
The game has huge implications for not only the Big Ten as a conference, but for the landscape of college football's first-ever playoff. Ohio State and Michigan State represent the league's best chance of making the highly anticipated postseason, and Saturday's showdown will be a pivotal moment for the conference as a whole.
Will the 14th-ranked Buckeyes get the resume-boosting win they desperately need, or will the Spartans prove themselves as the class of the Big Ten once again? Mark Dantonio's squad opened as two-point favorites early this week, but the line has jumped to 3.5, according to Odds Shark.
Michigan State is getting the benefit of the doubt thanks to a home-field advantage that will certainly have an impact on a young Ohio State team. That's one of the components working in Dantonio's favor, so the Buckeyes will need to overcome a hostile road environment with some X-factors of their own.
Because when looking at these teams, it's easy to see how even they really are.
Dantonio and Meyer have been successful in building Big Ten juggernauts—but they reached that pinnacle from two very different paths.
It took a few years for the Spartans to find their groove under Dantonio, going 22-17 in his first three seasons with the program (2007-09). But since 2010, Michigan State has averaged 10.5 wins per year—relying on a consistently good defense and efficient offenses led by quarterbacks such as Kirk Cousins.
Ohio State has thrived under Meyer, losing just three of its 34 games since the start of the 2012 season. The Buckeyes have buried a majority of their competition behind the strength of one of the nation's most productive offenses, but defense has been a consistent issue.
Even though both teams dropped Week 2 matchups against nonconference opponents, Michigan State and Ohio State have taken their games to another level. The Spartans offense is producing at the highest level of the Dantonio era, and the Buckeyes defense is surging under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash.
That improvement will pin two evenly matched teams against each other this Saturday.
What will Ohio State have to do to overcome such a strong opponent on the road?
When Ohio State's on Offense
Meyer's top priority on Saturday night should be getting J.T. Barrett settled into the game, because the young signal-caller struggled mightily the last time he was on the road. Against Penn state in a prime-time matchup in Happy Valley two weeks ago, Barrett threw for a season-low 74 yards and tossed two costly interceptions in a seven-point double-overtime victory.
Some of those struggles can be tied to Ohio State's conservative play-calling. As the Nittany Lions rallied, Meyer and the Ohio State coaching staff buttoned things up, leaning on Ezekiel Elliott and an improving rushing attack. But Meyer knows a similar game plan won't get it done against the Spartans.
"To win this game... We'll have to open up a little bit," Meyer said on Thursday, according to DJ Byrnes of Eleven Warriors.
That means Ohio State's pass-catchers will have to step up.
During the Big Ten title game last year, senior Corey "Philly" Brown hauled in five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. The rest of Ohio State's receivers and tight ends combined for just two catches (one each from Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman) for 47 yards.
Barrett has been incredible at distributing the ball this season, as Ohio State has eight different pass-catchers with more than 100 receiving yards. Sophomore Michael Thomas and senior Devin Smith, who have combined for 882 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, lead the way for the Buckeyes.
“We’re going to be ready. We know we have a great game plan coming in," Smith said, according to Eric Seger of The Ozone. "We’re going to come in (Thursday), finalize everything and just go out there Saturday and just try to be productive.”
They'll have to be ready to overcome a challenge, because Michigan State and its eighth-ranked passing efficiency defense await.
When Ohio State's on Defense
When these two teams last met, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook gashed Ohio State's beleaguered secondary with 304 passing yards and three touchdowns.
That was against a unit that finished the year ranking 110th nationally defending the pass. That inefficiency prompted Meyer to make a change, which brought Ash from Arkansas to join Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes defensive staff.
With a more aggressive scheme, the Buckeyes have been much better defensively—especially against the pass. Ohio State ranks 18th in passing efficiency defense, 13th in passing yards allowed and is tied for seventh nationally in interceptions.
But a strong defensive line—fueled by super sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa—is helping Ohio State's young but promising secondary.
Bosa ranks fifth in the country in sacks per game and is tied for third in tackles for loss, which leads the Big Ten in both categories. He is Ohio State's most disruptive defender by a wide margin, and he'll need to be at his best against the Spartans Saturday night.
Michigan State knows the challenge Bosa presents.
"He's a great player," Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin said, according to Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News. "You see him this season and last season, he bounces around a lot so the whole line is going to have to be ready to play against him."
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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The No. 21 Clemson Tigers got all they could handle from a game with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons squad before leaving Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with a 34-20 victory Thursday night.
Wake Forest entered the game winless in the ACC and a heavy underdog, even playing at home. However, midweek games have been crazy all year, and some of that magic rubbed off on the Demon Deacons.
Despite being outgained 427-119, Wake Forest remained tied with the Tigers in the fourth quarter until the Clemson offense simply became too much. The home team couldn't keep pace with the Tigers' array of weapons.
Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt started a bit slowly but improved as the game went on, finishing 27-of-42 for 282 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. His favorite receiver was Artavis Scott, who led the team with eight receptions, 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back Wayne Gallman chipped in 106 yards and a touchdown on the ground in addition to 43 yards receiving and another TD.
Compare that to Wake's leading offensive stars.
Quarterback John Wolford went for 88 yards and two touchdowns on 11-of-29 passing. Both TDs went to tight end Cam Serigne, who was Wake's leading receiver with 34 yards on three receptions. Running back Dezmond Wortham could only grind out 30 yards on eight carries.
By the numbers alone, Clemson dominated the game from start to finish. But the numbers only tell half the story.
The Tigers were by far the better team in the first half but shot themselves in the foot on two occasions with turnovers. As a result, Wake Forest headed into halftime tied with the Tigers, 17-17.
The Demon Deacons grabbed a 7-0 lead in the first quarter after Wolford hit Serigne for a four-yard touchdown pass. Wake Forest had a short field after cornerback Kevin Johnson intercepted Stoudt and returned the ball to the Clemson 43-yard line.
Clemson247 felt the turnover was more proof as to injured QB Deshaun Watson's importance to the offense:
In the second quarter, Stoudt made up for his mistake. After an Ammon Lakip field goal closed Clemson's gap to four points, 7-3, the senior quarterback found Gallman for an 18-yard touchdown pass to hand his team a 10-7 lead.
Here's a look, via Clemson Athletics:
The turnover bug bit the Tigers just one drive later, however. After a pass-interference penalty gave Wake Forest an automatic first down, the Clemson defense held strong and forced the Demon Deacons to punt. Tigers return man Adam Humphries then muffed the punt, and Johnson recovered the ball at the Clemson 13-yard line.
Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, wondered what Humphries was doing attempting to field the punt in the first place:
That turnover added to what was a great half for Johnson, as noted by ESPN College Football:
Wake Forest needed all of two plays before Wolford and Serigne connected on a touchdown strike for the second time, this one from 14 yards out, to grab the lead back from Clemson, 14-10. Serigne was the first freshman tight end to get two touchdowns in a game since 1998, per Wake Forest Football:
The Demon Deacons' advantage was short-lived. Stoudt once again responded. He led an impressive 12-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a four-yard touchdown pass to Scott. The Tigers enjoyed a 17-14 lead with 27 seconds left until halftime.
But that was just enough time for Wake Forest kicker Mike Weaver to line up and connect on a 50-yard field goal as the half expired to tie the game. The 17 points were the Demon Deacons' highest first-half total all year:
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was blunt in the assessment of his team, per ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy:
Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee took a look at the first-half stats and couldn't believe that the two teams were tied:
Clemson failed to create much separation in the third quarter too. Lakip hit a 39-yard field goal to put the Tigers ahead 20-17 five minutes into the half, but they couldn't pad the lead any more. Clemson's offense was moving the ball better and not turning it over, but it still couldn't find the score that would break the game open.
After missing a 54-yard attempt in the third, Weaver tied the game in the fourth quarter from 31 yards out with 11:08 to play.
Those three points helped bring the Demon Deacons back into the contest and build some confidence among the Wake Forest faithful.
Then, on the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, Scott went 68 yards on a pitch-and-catch from Stoudt.
Scott's big-play ability was exactly what Clemson needed to shake itself back to life. ESPN.com's David Hale is already looking to the future, during which he sees Watson and Scott anchoring the Tigers offense:
Clemson doubled its lead, 34-20, on its next drive, with Gallman punching it in from 30 yards out. Although Wake Forest had 6:36 left to tie the game, the final touchdown broke the Demon Deacons' spirit.
Although Clemson continues looking up at the unbeaten Florida State Seminoles in the standings, the Tigers' win at least keeps them in the hunt for one of the six big New Year's Day bowls. The Orange Bowl reserves a spot for the highest-ranked ACC team not going to the College Football Playoff, which in all likelihood will be Clemson.
On the other side, Wake Forest's journey to its first conference win won't get much easier. The Demon Deacons play North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Duke to wrap up the regular season.
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