NCAA Football

Defensive Meltdown May Doom USC's Chances to Win Pac-12

LOS ANGELES — A complete meltdown by the passing defense highlighted by a single play in the final seconds of No. 16 USC’s 38-34 loss Saturday to Arizona State will haunt the Trojans in their pursuit of the Pac-12 Championship.

In just his second career start, Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici capped a 510-yard, five-touchdown night with a 46-yard Hail Mary to wide receiver Jaelen Strong.

“It’s a game of inches,” said Strong, who finished with 202 receiving yards.

Arizona State needed every inch that went into Bercovici’s bomb, but the Sun Devils made the most of a few other big plays in the final stretch.

Head coach Todd Graham summarized it best: “It wasn’t just that one play.”

The Trojans’ miscues on Arizona State’s game-winner were the culmination of an overall defensive meltdown uncharacteristic of the team earlier in the night.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said in his postgame press conference that he “would have liked to have seen more bodies around the ball” on Bercovici’s last-ditch effort.

One of the Trojans in the neighborhood was linebacker Hayes Pullard.

“It was great execution by the offense,” Pullard said. “[Strong] went up there and got the ball and got the job done.”

Pullard said he does not typically play deep—“just boxing out defenders,” usually—but Sarkisian said the linebacker’s presence was needed to aid the Trojans' secondary.

Arizona State was able to pick on cornerback Kevon Seymour some, including on Bercovici's 73-yard hook-up with wide receiver Cameron Smith for the Sun Devils' penultimate score.

That touchdown pass negated USC running back Javorius "Buck" Allen's 53-yard touchdown rush just moments earlier.

"Kevon went to knock the ball down to undercut the play and missed and there was nothing but green grass [ahead of Smith]," Sarkisian said.

Though big plays have come infrequently against the USC secondary, Oregon State's sole passing success a week ago also came at the expense of Seymour.

Arizona State was able to more consistently exploit those big plays, which in turn forced USC to be less aggressive with its pass rush.

“We were trying to help our secondary as best as we could,” Sarkisian said. “We like our guys rushing, [and] to their credit, [Bercovici] stepped up in the pocket a few times and made some throws.”

Bercovici was the X-factor well before the Hail Mary. USC contained the Arizona State run game, holding the Sun Devils to just 31 rushing yards on the evening. But as it became evident USC would not yield much on the ground, Bercovici successfully went to the air.

His two scoring strikes to Strong in the first half were the first passing touchdowns the USC defense surrendered all season.

The second set an ominous tone in hindsight: It was a 77-yard connection with Strong.

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox seemingly ironed out the kinks after that score, as Arizona State went the next 33 minutes without crossing the goal line.

“In the end, it’s the old adage: That’s why you play 60 minutes,” Sarkisian said.

After giving up the first two touchdown passes it surrendered all season in the first half, the USC defense buckled down to keep Arizona State out of the end zone for the next 33 minutes.

But in just three minutes and 53 seconds, USC gave up three touchdowns. In less than four minutes, the Trojans went from looking at a 3-0 Pac-12 mark to an 0-1 start in the South Division.

The opposite was true for Arizona State. The reigning division champion Sun Devils were faced with falling behind 0-2 in the South after losing to UCLA last week, 62-27.

Down nine points on two separate occasions in the final minutes, that 0-2 start looked all but certain for the Sun Devils.

However, playing in front of a throng of family and friends, Bercovici—a product of nearby Taft High School—engineered drives of 98, 73 and 72 yards.

“They’re such an outstanding defense. I know a lot of their guys and they're so athletic. You have to be careful where you put the ball,” Bercovici said.

He did just that throughout the night, avoiding any interceptions after giving away two against UCLA.

“They took a different approach, playing more of a prevent defense,” Bercovici said of USC’s approach in the final minutes.

Bercovici exploited a coverage that's been proven time and again to be ineffective in late-game situations, and it cost the Trojans.

USC now heads into next week’s road contest against unbeaten Arizona in need of a victory to get its championship aspirations back on course.

“[The loss] leaves us with a stinging, with a sick feeling in our gut,” Sarkisian said. “It leaves us a chance to show who we are and our mettle and our resiliency.”


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

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Defensive Meltdown May Doom USC's Chances to Win Pac-12

LOS ANGELES — A complete meltdown by the passing defense highlighted by a single play in the final seconds of No. 16 USC’s 38-34 loss Saturday to Arizona State will haunt the Trojans in their pursuit of the Pac -12 Championship...

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Michigan Losing Streak Isn't Likely to End If Defense Surrenders Big Plays

Michigan might not win another game this season unless its defense can stop getting burned for big plays. While Devin Gardner’s struggles at quarterback have taken center stage the last few games, the 26-24 loss to Rutgers exposed defensive flaws with grave implications for this team’s ability to compete in the Big Ten.

Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova (22-of-39, 404 yards and three touchdowns) looked like a Heisman trophy candidate versus the Wolverines. He threw for more yards in the first half (282) than he was averaging per game (239), while leading his team to a 19-17 halftime lead. Kyle Bogenschutz of provided Hoke's assessment of Nova:

In a stunning pattern the Michigan defense would hang tough for a few plays before getting scorched— usually on third down with Nova finding a receiver for a big play.

Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press summed up Nova’s third-down brilliance:

He threw an 80-yard touchdown pass on a broken coverage and marched his team 75 yards in just 1:21 for a pre-halftime score, a play marked by Frank Clark's missed sack.

That was just the latest of Rutgers' killer third downs, where they were 5-of-9, each one a dagger.

A 53-yard pass on a third and five, a 20-yard Nova rush – his career long – on third and 16, and a 23 yarder later on third and six.

For the second week in a row, the Michigan defense was ripped through the air.

Last week Minnesota, with the 121st-ranked passing offense in the nation (113 yards per game), erupted for 167 passing yards versus Michigan. Minnesota’s success through the air was particularly surprising since its offense had relied primarily on the running attack in prior games but passed with ease versus Michigan.

Rutgers, which entered the game ranked 63rd nationally in passing offense (240.6), surged for 402 passing yards against the Wolverines.

In both cases Michigan appeared to be unprepared or unable to shut down the passing attack.

And make no mistake, while Minnesota and Rutgers are good, the toughest teams on the schedule are still ahead for Michigan.

Rivals Michigan State (47th-ranked nationally, 263 passing yards per game) and Ohio State (37th-ranked nationally, 279.8 yards per game) have the capability and desire to hang over 50 points on Michigan— maybe by halftime. Michigan plays both teams on the road where it has struggled throughout Hoke’s tenure.


For a preview of coming attractions check out what Ari Wasserman of said about Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett:

A good way to tell whether Barrett is selling fakes and making good reads is how many times the TV cameramen are fooled. It happened on a few occasions. ... Barrett threw at least four touchdowns for the third consecutive game, so it seems as if he's really coming into his own.

But what was most impressive, more than just the number of touchdowns, were the passes he made, ones where only the receiver had a chance at it. 

The team also faces Maryland (48th-ranked nationally, 262.4 passing yards per game) for its final game of the season at Michigan Stadium.

The implication is clear—if Michigan is getting ripped by mediocre teams like Minnesota and Rutgers, elite teams such as Michigan State and Ohio State should have no problem dispatching the Wolverines. In fact, Minnesota has shown that even teams with anemic passing attacks can take advantage of the Wolverines.

As Brady Hoke enters his fourth season, Michigan is nowhere near being able to compete for the Big Ten title. It might not even win a Big Ten game this season. Angelique of The Detroit News shared a snapshot of the post-win, on-field celebration:

As Michigan and Rutgers met for first time, it was Michigan that wilted under the pressure and looked unprepared for Big Ten play.

Michigan fans will see a lot of big plays this season—but most will be by opponents.

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


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Nebraska Still Controls Its Own Destiny for Big Ten Title, Despite Loss

Don't count out Nebraska just yet, Big Ten. Despite losing to Michigan State, the Huskers are still as much of a threat to win the conference championship as they were before.

That might not seem like the case, though. In fact, the Spartans exposed a few of Nebraska's weaknesses, such as their offensive line and secondary struggles. That's something future Big Ten opponents will use against the Huskers.

However, Nebraska wasn't lifeless against the Spartans. Instead, the Huskers fought from start-to-finish, as several people pointed out on Twitter.

The question is now whether or not the Huskers still control their own destiny for the Big Ten title. The answer is yes.

First and foremost, Michigan State is ranked No. 10 nationally and that's not a fluke. The Spartans are a powerful and tough Big Ten opponent who have been a favorite to win the conference since late-August. The title was originally projected to go to Ohio State, but after the Buckeyes lost quarterback Braxton Miller, conducted a new poll of Big Ten sports writers. MSU came out as the new favorite that go-around.

Since then, the Spartans have shown their strength as a team. Their one loss to Oregon raised some flags in playoff talk, but it didn't change where they stood in the Big Ten. The Huskers knew that heading to East Lansing. Yet, Nebraska still underperformed.

People will point to this game to prove the Huskers don't have what it takes to win the Big Ten. It's not entirely unjustified, either. Looking at I-back Ameer Abdullah, the senior had a disappointing 45 net-yards on 24 carries. His two touchdowns in the fourth quarter helped, but he wasn't the Abdullah people had come to expect, especially when he fumbled in the second quarter.

It would be a mistake for future opponents to overlook Abdullah because of his production against Michigan State. The I-back already has three games with over 200 yards and another with over 100 for the season. He's racked up 10 touchdowns, guaranteeing at least one in every matchup to date.

A lot of Abdullah's troubles came from the Nebraska offensive line not holding strong. That's something that can be corrected, especially because the group has shown promise previously. In fact, Illinois' head coach Tim Beckman was the first to say how good the Huskers' offensive line was.

Illinois is a very different team than Michigan State, but the Nebraska offensive line has proven they can play well together. The group was allowing the offense to rush for 1,774 yards and 16 touchdowns on 256 carries prior to Michigan State. That's enough to show future opponents the offensive line can be a threat.

On the other side of the ball, the Nebraska defense showed up big against Michigan State. Senior linebacker Trevor Roach finished with a career-high 18 tackles. Junior defensive end Randy Gregory snagged his first interception of the season, while also helping contribute to Nebraska's three forced takeaways.

Ultimately, Nebraska is still as much in control of its destiny as ever. There are certain aspects that need to be improved upon, such as the offensive line and the secondary, but if the Huskers can figure it out, they could see Michigan State again in the Big Ten Championship.

Nebraska players believe they will. “Honestly, that’s not the last time [MSU] is going to see us. I can promise you that," Tommy Armstrong said. "We plan on going 11-1, making the Big Ten championship and playing Michigan State again, if they make it."

Abdullah feels the same. "Oh, we're going to respond," he said. "We're going to get to Indiana."

That attitude is telling, as the Huskers competed from start-to-finish. It may not have worked out in Nebraska's favor, but if this team can grow from the loss, there's no reason they can't win the West Division, or the whole conference for that matter.

It truly all lies in Nebraska's hands.


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

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Nebraska vs. Michigan State: Game Grades, Analysis for Cornhuskers and Spartans

Trae Waynes saved the day with a late interception deep in MSU territory as Nebraska was mounting an epic comeback attempt.  Michigan State, up 27-9 only minutes before, gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns, allowing Nebraska to pull within five points.  The Huskers, with 1:07 on the clock and the ball, drove into MSU territory before the interception sealed the Spartans' 27-22 victory.

There's plenty to go over from both teams, so let's dive right in!

Box score via


Nebraska Passing Offense

The evening didn't start off all that well for Tommy Armstrong and his receivers.  Kenny Bell went down early to a leg injury and did not return.  By halftime, Armstrong could only manage 72 yards on a 9-of-16 performance with one interception.

The second-half numbers look quite a bit better, thanks in large part to some big plays late in the comeback effort.  Armstrong finished with 273 yards on a 20-of-43 night, while backup Ryker Fyfe pitched in nine yards on one completion.

Still, the passing game's grade is held low because of the failure to find the end zone and the two costly interceptions.


Nebraska Rushing Offense

This is where we were really surprised.

Ameer Abdullah came into this game leading not just the Big Ten but the entire FBS in rushing yards.  He was averaging 166.6 yards per game.  We didn't expect quite that level of production against a defense like Michigan State's, but we certainly didn't expect 1.9 yards per carry on 24 attempts.

MSU did a fine job of containing Abdullah, and the Nebraska running attack failed its first real test of 2014.


Nebraska Pass Defense

Nebraska's secondary did a nice job of limiting open throwing lanes for Connor Cook, but he was so accurate that he was still able to post 234 yards and a touchdown on just 11 completions.

Nebraska did come up with an interception on the evening, just moments into the game.  Unfortunately, like so many of Nebraska's takeaways, the Huskers weren't able to convert that interception into points.

All in all, the pass defense put forth a solid performance.  It was just not quite good enough to get a stop when it was needed to stop the bleeding early on.


Nebraska Run Defense

Considering Nebraska's defenders see a back like Ameer Abdullah every day in practice, we somehow expect the Huskers to be great against the run.  On Saturday night, they weren't great.

Jeremy Langford gashed the Huskers for 111 yards on 29 attempts, and the Spartans were able to beat Nebraska on the edge most of the night.  All told, the Spartans had 188 yards and two touchdowns against the Nebraska ground defense.


Nebraska Special Teams

Drew Brown connected on his only field-goal attempt of the night, but the real highlight was the punt return for a touchdown from De'Mornay Pierson-El late in the fourth quarter that gave Nebraska an opportunity to win the game.

When so many other facets of the Nebraska performance were lacking, we have no complaints about the special teams, which is why that unit earns a team-leading "A-minus."


Nebraska Coaching

We have to admit Bo Pelini didn't do the greatest of jobs in the first half.  We get the weather was nasty.  If you've never experienced a cold, rainy, windy October night in Michigan, you might also not understand why Pelini chose punts instead of field-goal attempts early in the game.

Yet, had those punts—many of which resulted in small net gains, thanks to touchbacks—been converted into just a few more points via intermediate-range field-goal attempts, the end result may have been very different.

After halftime, however, Pelini didn't let his troops give up.  Nebraska clawed its way back into the game, and the coaching staff deserves as much credit as anyone for the dedication and belief Nebraska showed down the stretch. 


Michigan State Passing Offense

It's difficult to grade MSU's passing performance in this game.  On one hand, Cook found room for 234 yards and a touchdown.  On the other hand, he was just 11-of-29 with an interception.

Still, Cook was amazingly accurate when he needed to be, splitting the defense with his bullet-like passes right on the money.  The effort was good enough to win, and Cook did find six different receivers, including Tony Lippett three times for 104 yards and a score.


Michigan State Rushing Offense

If we were going to pick one team to win the ground game, it wasn't going to be Michigan State.  But with Jeremy Langford's 111 yards on 29 carries and the team's 188 total rushing yards, the Spartans completely eclipsed anything the Cornhuskers could do.


Michigan State Pass Defense

We were all set to give MSU high marks for a great effort against Nebraska's passing attack.  The Spartans held Armstrong to just 9-of-16 for 72 yards and an interception in the first half.  But with the late comeback attempt, Nebraska ended up with 282 total passing yards on the evening.

We will, however, hand out a little extra credit for the game-saving interception with just a few seconds left.


Michigan State Run Defense

Holy cow, what an effort.  Abdullah is one of the most dynamic rushers in the nation, and the Spartans utterly shut him down in East Lansing.

Abdullah was held to a paltry 45 yards on 24 carries.  He did get a pair of short touchdown runs in the second half, but MSU did a great job of limiting the big plays.  Abdullah's long on the night was just nine yards.


Michigan State Special Teams

Talk about nearly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory...

Michigan State's special teams nearly gave the game away late with a missed field goal and shoddy coverage on a punt that resulted in Pierson-El's touchdown return, which cut the MSU lead to five points.

Michigan State survived, but it wasn't thanks to the special teams.


Michigan State Coaching

Mark Dantonio managed to smile a little bit after the game, but it was likely a smile of relief, not one of genuine happiness.

When Nebraska was mounting its final drive with 1:07 to go and just five points down, it was easy to imagine Michigan State rolling over given the comeback that was staring the Spartans squarely in the face.

Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi came down from the press box to talk to his defense face-to-face, and Dantonio kept his team's head in the right place long enough to pull it out late.


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

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

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Why Auburn Is the New Team to Beat in the SEC

AUBURN, Ala. — Saturday was a day of carnage in the Top 10, and inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, it was no different.

But unlike the scenes at TCU and both Mississippi schools, the higher-ranked team was the one delivering the painful loss.

On a day when No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 6 Texas A&M all fell—and two days after No. 2 Oregon dropped a Thursday-night game to Arizona—No. 5 Auburn went above and beyond with a 41-7 blowout against rival LSU.

The win now puts Auburn in a three-way tie with Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the ultra-competitive SEC West.

"It has a lot of big-time teams," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "It is the best division in college football. I think it is pretty clear."

What is also pretty clear at this point is the top spot in the division belongs to Malzahn's team.

With two victories against Top 20 teams to Ole Miss' one as well as a blowout win against a team Mississippi State edged out, Auburn is now the SEC's new team to beat.

"I think this was the start of our statement wins," senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said. "It was the start of us being where we need to be...I think that's a testament to where we are as a team."

When the AP Top 25 and USA Today coaches polls are released Sunday, Auburn will have a legitimate claim to the top spot in the country, as fellow undefeated team Florida State has struggled against ranked foes this season.

But does Auburn think it deserves the No. 1 ranking?

"Deserving?" senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "I'm more on the side of we are going to keep on trucking and earn it. I'm not even going to lie to you, after last year, it's shown a lot that the rankings don't matter. Just play your butts off."

Auburn definitely "played its butts off" against LSU, which entered the game with high hopes after a dominant performance with true freshman quarterback Brandon Harris.

The new starter was only 3-for-14 through the air before being pulled in favor of Anthony Jennings, the player he replaced one week earlier against New Mexico State.

LSU finished the game 0-for-13 on third-down conversions, becoming the first team to not move the chains against Auburn since the infamous 3-2 game in 2008 at Mississippi State.

"One guy would make a play, then on the sideline before the next series we'd say that it's someone else's time, and another guy would go out and make the play," Wright said. "The execution was just really sound. Communication was better than expected tonight because the fans were as loud as they had ever been, in my eyes."

On offense, Auburn scorched the nation's No. 12 defense in total yards allowed per game for 566 yards and 41 points.

After struggling with slow starts in recent weeks, Auburn's offense racked up 247 yards against LSU in the first quarter—the most in any single quarter since Malzahn took over as head coach.

“We talked all week about getting off to a quick start," Malzahn said. "We really focused in on the offense and we were able to score points early, and it made things easier later in the game."

Areas that Auburn struggled with prior to Saturday night didn't slow the offense down, and a few players had breakout performances that fans had been waiting to see all season.

Sammie Coates, who finished No. 3 nationally in yards per catch last season, matched his season total in receiving yards with one catch against LSU—an incredible first-quarter touchdown grab in traffic.

The highlight-reel play sparked the Auburn attack and kick-started the impressive blowout against the Bayou Bengals.

"We get so amped up when we see stuff on [the video screen] sometimes, and to be able to see that catch that he had — that was insane," Uzomah said. "That kind of propelled us. The steamroll started going after that."

Auburn will hope to keep that momentum from the rout going on both sides of the ball as it turns to a Mississippi State team that recorded a similar rout against Texas A&M and its high-powered offense earlier on Saturday.

If there is any argument between the Tigers and the Bulldogs' claim to the top spot in the SEC, it will be settled one week from now in Starkville.

"We have to get together, watch film and see what they like to do," senior defensive back Trovon Reed said. "We just need to keep improving and build off this performance.”

Just minutes after the final whistle sounded in Auburn's first win against LSU since 2010, Malzahn's team was not concerned with celebration—it already had its sights set on the next game in a brutal stretch of SEC games.

"The LSU is over with," senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne said. "We've already turned the page. We're focused on Mississippi State."


All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Arizona State Stuns USC with Last-Second Hail Mary TD

Another week, another last-second Hail Mary win in the Pac-12. This week it's the Arizona State Sun Devils supplying the late-game heroics as they shocked the USC Trojans.

Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici dropped back with the final seconds ticking away and found wide receiver Jaelen Strong in the end zone for the 38-34 win.

Was this the best Hail Mary win of the season?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 6

There were some outstanding performances during Week 6 of the College Football season. Many of the top teams went down in action, while many of the top players proved once again why they are a cut above the rest. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder gives you his list of top five Hesiman contenders after Week 6. 

Who is in your top five?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Nebraska vs. Michigan State: Score and Twitter Reaction

No. 10-ranked Michigan State survived a late surge from No. 19 Nebraska to notch a vital 27-22 victory and stake their claim as the team to beat in the Big Ten.

The Spartans defense was the star of the show. They put constant pressure on the quarterback and held Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah to just 45 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.

Here is the quarter-by-quarter score from the Big Ten contest:

The Spartans front did well to bottle up Abdullah, an early Heisman Trophy candidate, in the first half. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun and linebacker Ed Davis were especially impressive, providing a formidable pass rush while still holding up their end of the bargain against the run.

Davis was particularly aggressive in the first half and made his presence known early with a vicious third-down sack. Calhoun notched a third-down sack of his own early on as well, prompting Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star to give his assessment of the Cornhuskers' offensive line:

Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. did the best he could behind the porous offensive line, but he wasn't immune from mistakes of his own. He threw a first-quarter interception to cornerback Trae Waynes, an early blemish in what would be a difficult game for the sophomore passer.

The Spartans' offense—second in the nation in scoring with 50.3 points per game entering Saturday—wasn't exactly spectacular, but it did just enough to support the monstrous effort from their defense. Quarterback Connor Cook provided a highlight play early on, completing a 55-yard touchdown pass to wideout Tony Lippett to open the scoring midway through the first quarter.

Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart called Lippett the best receiver in the conference:

Cook struggled to get in a rhythm after that play, but running back Jeremy Langford gave the offense a jolt with his 31-yard touchdown run, granting the Spartans a 14-0 advantage early in the second quarter.

Michigan State punt returner Macgarrett Kings Jr. gifted the Cornhuskers a golden scoring opportunity with nine minutes to go in the first half when he failed to corral Nebraska's punt and let the ball bounce off his fingertips and into the hands of his opponents.

The Cornhuskers opted to feed Abdullah the ball with paydirt a mere eight yards away, only to watch Davis make another huge play and punch the ball out of his hands and into the arms of Calhoun, preserving the two-touchdown differential in the process.'s Chris Vannini was in awe of Davis' play:

The Spartans quickly moved the ball into scoring position, only to have the drive stall out on a steady supply of runs from halfback Nick Hill. Michigan State didn't finish the drive empty-handed, as Michael Geiger hit his first field goal of the day to give the Spartans a commanding 17-0 lead heading into the locker room.

Abdullah finished the first half with just 15 carries for 21 yards. Armstrong Jr. didn't fare well moving the ball through the air, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 60 yards and one interception.

The first-half performance from the Spartans defense was especially impressive considering Abdullah's penchant for ripping off huge chunks of yardage. College GameDay provides the key stat:

The second half continued in a manner similar to the first, with Armstrong Jr. unable to keep his team on the field and the Spartans slowly but surely building upon their already sizable advantage. 

Sports Radio 610's Sean Pendergast noted Armstrong's poor mechanics and blamed head coach Bo Pelini in the process:


Of course, the play of Michigan State's secondary certainly had much to do with his struggles. RealGM's Jeff Risdon noted Waynes smothered the Cornhuskers receivers throughout the game:

The two teams traded field goals midway through the third quarter to make the score 20-3, and the game was in serious doubt for the Cornhuskers with little momentum to carry them.

Cook may not have lit up the Nebraska secondary, but he did light up a defender with a crushing low block that sprung Lippett for a 32-yard touchdown run on a well-designed double reverse. Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton recapped the play:

Armstrong briefly left the game after taking a hard shot on a scramble up the middle; his absence would be felt when Nebraska finally showed signs of life in the final quarter.

Abdullah finally broke through for a two-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 18 points. That faint glimmer of hope was quickly snuffed out when quarterback Ryker Fyfe and Abdullah botched the handoff exchange and failed to score on a much-needed two-point conversion.

After three-plus quarters of mostly desultory play, Nebraska finally came to life. The Spartans offense failed to put the game away in the fourth quarter, and Abdullah took advantage, plunging in for a one-yard touchdown with just over four minutes remaining to make the score 27-16.

Armstrong looked much more confident after returning from injury and helped keep the ball moving for the Cornhuskers. The offensive line also did a much better job of protecting him in the late scramble.

The Cornhuskers forced Michigan State to punt on the ensuing drive, and wide receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El took the 43-yard boot all the way back for a 62-yard touchdown, cutting Michigan State's lead to 27-22.

The Spartans had the chance to go up by eight and force Nebraska into a difficult spot, but Geiger missed a 37-yard field goal, leaving Nebraska with one chance to notch a wild come-from-behind victory with just over a minute remaining.

They were able to move the ball into opposing territory, but Waynes corralled a desperate Armstrong pass for his second interception of the day, sealing the win for the Spartans. Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News noted the relief that swept over the stadium:

With Alabama, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oregon all losing in Week 6, Michigan State now has an outside shot at a College Football Playoff spot with the win over Nebraska. They will need the run the table in a diluted Big Ten conference, but they proved that their defense is among the best in the country and strong enough to take care of business when the offense falters.

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Arizona State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

The USC Trojans had the game locked up Saturday. The score was 34-25 with 3:02 left in the game. 

But the football gods punished Steve Sarkisian for his "play not to lose" style, and Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici found his favorite target in the world, Jaelen Strong, for the game-winning 38-34 score.

Here's the full box score of the game from

With that, let's check out the game grades and analysis of each positional unit for the Trojans, who are surely hurting after that heartbreaking loss. 

Pass Offense: Cody Kessler actually had a decent game, and nothing should be taken from him. He completed 28 of 45 passes for 273 yards and didn't have any turnovers. He didn't throw for any touchdowns either, but when Buck Allen is having a great game, you don't have to. Thirteen of the team's 31 first downs also came through the air. 

Rush Offense: Like Kessler, the Trojans running backs had a stellar game as well. They were led by Allen, who racked up 143 yards and two touchdowns on just 29 carries. Justin Davis complemented him with 67 yards on 14 touches. The only criticism was that USC didn't convert the first down in the final minute of the game, which gave the Sun Devils the ball back. 

Pass Defense: When you give up the game-winning Hail Mary, your secondary failed for the game, regardless of what happened before that. When your secondary gives up 510 yards and five touchdowns to Bercovici—Taylor Kelly's backup, at home of all places—you definitely fail the game. Bercovici found his stride all game, and it was his heave to Strong that gave the Sun Devils the impromptu, shocking win over the Trojans. 

Rush Defense: As awful as the Trojans pass defense was, the rush defense was lights out. The Sun Devils totaled just 30 yards on the ground on 22 attempts. They forced Bercovici, a backup replacing the injured Kelly, to loft the ball in what should have been a winning game plan for the Trojans. But the poor effort by the secondary allowed Bercovici to get comfortable and pick apart the Trojans. 

Special Teams: Nobody likes Kessler punting, and Sarkisian needs to seriously consider giving up that method. It was Kessler's poor punt in the last minute that traveled just 16 yards which gave the Sun Devils breathing room to operate on the final, fateful drive that ended in the Hail Mary. Still, Andre Heidari connected on both field goals to salvage drives that had fizzled out. 

Coaching: When you coach not to lose instead of to win, Hail Marys happen. That's what Sarkisian did at the end by not giving Kessler a chance to pick up the first down through the air with his team clinging to a two-point lead and instead willingly giving the ball back to Arizona State. His choice to have Kessler punting on squib punts instead of just having the regular punter do what he's best at is also suspect. 

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Arizona State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

The USC Trojans had the game locked up Saturday. The score was 34-25 with 3:02 left in the game. But the football gods punished Steve Sarkisian for his "play not to lose" style, ...

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Michigan vs. Rutgers: Game Grades, Analysis for the Wolverines

Another week, another bad loss for Michigan. 

Now at 2-4, the Wolverines must scramble for answers if they hope to even remotely compete with Penn State this Saturday in Ann Arbor. 

But back to this Saturday's last-minute heartbreaker versus Rutgers, who won 26-24 thanks in part to Kemoko Turay's blocked kick. 

Mismanaged and poorly executed third downs yet again played a part in coach Brady Hoke's demise. His stumble in Piscataway, New Jersey, only rekindles the increasingly popular "hot seat" talk. He's been in Ann Arbor for roughly three-and-a-half years, and progress seems further away now than it did when he accepted the job in 2011. 

Now on to the game grades, which are determined by a mixture of stats, frequency of opportunity and overall performance through the first six games of 2014. 

Get the official box score on 


Pass Offense

What pass offense? Devin Gardner moved the ball better with his feet. Devin Funchess made a great catch in the fourth quarter that set up Matt Wile's ill-fated attempt, but that's the problem: His efforts have been few and far between, it seems. Too little, too late. 

The 6'5", 236-pound junior finished with five catches for 71 yards, an otherwise respectable night. But not for guys like Funchess—not in games like Saturday's. No touchdowns and rare red-zone action from the No. 1 throw shade on this grade. 


Pass Defense

There's a problem when an average quarterback looks like an All-American. That's not a knock on Gary Nova. He'd probably admit that he's had many highs and many lows. But Saturday night, he was unstoppable, throwing for 282 yards in the first half. 

He finished with 404 yards and three touchdowns. He also eclipsed 8,000 career yards. And (yes, there's more) he led the Scarlet Knights to one of their biggest triumphs in program history. 

Michigan corner Blake Countess wasn't even close to the old Blake Countess. He was beaten on three plays that resulted in touchdowns. Leonte Carroo was the main man entering the game; however, he wasn't targeted much after suffering a blow to the head from Jarrod Wilson in the first half. 

Nova averaged 17.5 yards per completion and provided a lot of fun for Andrew Turzilli and Janarion Grant, who were more than adequate in Carroo's stead. 


Run Offense

If Derrick Green continues running the way he did versus the Scarlet Knights, Team 135 may actually have something to work with on the ground. The sophomore running back impressed with a pair of 20-plus-yard runs. However, his stat column wasn't that impressive: 12 carries for 74 yards. 

If you watched the game, you know: Green was much, much better than his numbers suggest. 

Team 135 scored each of its three touchdowns on the ground, so that's a plus. It averaged 4.5 yards per tote, too. 

But De'Veon Smith struggled, bringing down the overall grade. If you count Gardner, well, maybe the night deserves slightly more credit from this grader. But not much more. 


Run Defense

Desmon Peoples was supposed to give Michigan problems. He didn't. Instead, he averaged 2.5 yards per touch (team average, too) and was a relative non-factor in his team's victory. Well, that may be unfair. He didn't put up big stats, hence the "non-factor" label, but he commanded attention. That could have opened up things for Nova and the rest of the offense. 


Special Teams

Will Hagerup has had difficulty. He kicks too long when his team needs a pooch and shanks it when the Wolverines need a booming kick to the next area code. 

Michigan held its own on both sides of the ball during kick- and punt-return duties. Dennis Norfleet remains due for a touchdown, but he averaged 19.6 yards per attempt Saturday night. That helps with field position. Given the state of their offense, the Wolverines need every yard they can get from Fleetwood. 

What about the real play? You know, the one that decided the game? Ahh, yes. Wile's potential game-winner. Well, just watch the Vine. That explains everything. 



Michigan has played six games, which leads to this question: What exactly has been worked on during the past month-and-a-half? Other than offensive spurts and the sporadic tackle from the defense, the Wolverines were anything but polished against Rutgers. 

This team has shown severe lapses in fundamentals since Week 2's 31-0 loss to Notre Dame. 


Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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Trevor Knight's Poor Play a Cause for Concern in Oklahoma's Loss vs. TCU

Oklahoma's title aspirations took a shot to the stomach during its 37-33 loss to TCU. Although Trevor Knight has never displayed much accuracy during his career, but his inefficiency was put on full display on Saturday.

During a crushing defeat that will slide the Sooners down the rankings, the sophomore completed just 14 of 35 passes. His 309 passing yards on those few completions could not offset the two interceptions that made a mighty difference in this tight contest.

He got outplayed by rising star Trevone Boykin, who now has 10 passing touchdowns to two interceptions on the season, compared to Knight's five scores and picks apiece.

If not for Sterling Shepard, his day could have gotten much worse. He reeled in half of Knight's successful attempts for 215 yards and a 75-yard touchdown pass that saved Oklahoma's aerial assault from a much glimmer outlook.

Knight refuses to let one loss derail the Sooners' 2014 campaign, per the Associated Press, via

"This isn't the defining moment of our season. There's a lot of football left," Knight said. "Who knows what's down the road. It's early in the season, a one-loss team can still make it."

He's not wrong, as the amount of undefeated teams shrank drastically following an upset-filled Saturday. Should the Sooners defeat Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State en route to an 11-1 season, their championship hopes will remain well and alive.

Yet with such an erratic quarterback at the helm, it's hard to envision such a perfect stretch affording Knight and Co. no margin for error. Through five games, Knight is posting a ghastly 54.5 completion percentage, lower than his 59.0 percent clip from his freshman year. 

To properly gauge that mark, 71 FBS passers entered Saturday with a completion percentage of 60 or higher. Knight will have to labor to maintain a spot in the top 100.

That's not to say he ranks that lowly as a college quarterback, as his deep-play potency offsets some of his inconsistency. His 8.3 yards per attempt puts him on much better footing, yet that's a dangerous formula to sustain on a living basis.

Big plays are tougher to replicate given their tougher nature, so he can't count on escaping inaccuracy every week with long bombs. Eventually he must find a way to routinely move the chains on short strikes.

Knight is still a promising quarterback with a strong arm, but he's not steady enough to lead a premier club to glory. Not yet, at least.

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Nick Marshall vs. LSU: Stat Line, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall put on a brilliant dual-threat display in the No. 5 Tigers' dominant 41-7 victory over No. 15 LSU.

His ability to make scintillating runs and pass the ball efficiently put the game out of reach for LSU by halftime. 

Marshall averaged just 137 passing yards through his team's first four games, good enough for his team to go undefeated, but a sign that improvement would be necessary for the team to march through the gauntlet that is an SEC schedule.

He didn't light up the LSU secondary on Saturday, but his performance was an encouraging sign for the team's prospects moving forward.

"Nick played like one of the better quarterbacks in the entire country," said head coach Guz Malzahn, via the Associated Press (h/t

The senior quarterback was locked in from the get-go in this contest. Marshall threaded a brilliant pass to wide receiver Sammie Coates for the team's first touchdown of the game, a 56-yard score that whipped the crowd into a frenzy that hardly dissipated throughout the game.'s Justin Hokanson described the highlight-reel throw:

He put a brilliant move on an LSU defender to score on a seven-yard touchdown run just over three minutes later. Auburn Tigers provides a look at the play, via ESPN:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee described the sensational play:

Marshall was responsible for two more scores before the half. He lofted a nine-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver C.J. Uzomah to open the second quarter, then broke through the middle of the LSU defense for a fantastic 29-yard touchdown run to make the score 31-7 in Auburn's favor at halftime. The Tigers' official Twitter account provides a look:

Sallee aptly described the way the play unfolded:

Marshall didn't have much to do in the second half but managed the game effectively and let the defense take care of LSU's lackluster rushing attack.

With Oklahoma, Alabama and Oregon all losing this week, Auburn takes front-runner status along with Florida State for one of the four College Football Playoff berths. The Tigers would probably like to see Marshall take better advantage of his considerable arm strength moving forward and ensure defenses have to respect the team both through the air and on the ground, but the dynamite rushing performances should do for now.

It's unlikely that they'll get through a schedule featuring the likes of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi State without a notch in the loss column, but this team will have a strong chance with Marshall playing well and taking care of the football.

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LSU vs. Auburn: Game Grades, Analysis for Auburn and LSU

Auburn continues to play great football as they dominated LSU 41-7. The final box score can be found here thanks to

From offense, defense and special teams, Auburn played great football and showed no signs of slowing down despite a very tough schedule. As for LSU, it’s clear Les Miles has a lot of work to do in order to get back as a contender in the SEC West.

Here are some game grades and analysis for LSU and Auburn.



Passing Offense

Brandon Harris was supposed to give a spark for LSU, but he fell flat, as he completed only three of his 14 pass attempts for 58 yards. He was overthrowing his receivers and never looked comfortable in his first start. Anthony Jennings came in during the second half and fared a little better, completing five of 10 passes for 84 yards. But he was fighting an uphill battle because the Auburn defense put a ton of pressure on him.


Running Offense

The running game for LSU was OK, but it could have been better. LSU was facing a tough Auburn run defense, but they needed to run the ball better to take the pressure off Harris. The LSU offensive line could not contain the Auburn defensive line, and that led to the running backs for LSU not getting anything going all night long.


Passing Defense

It was not a good night for the LSU secondary, to say the least. The group gave up explosive plays, and they had no answer for Sammie Coates, who had 144 receiving yards and one touchdown. The secondary is a young group that needed help from the front seven in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback, which did not happen.


Running Defense

LSU had fits with stopping Texas A&M two weeks ago in terms of the run game, and it was no different with Auburn as they rushed for 294 yards. The defensive line and linebackers are talented, but they don’t have that leader who will rally the troops and pull everyone together when things are not going their way. Lamar Louis and Kwon Alexander had 15 total tackles, but they were getting the tackles when guys like Marshall and Artis-Payne already got to the second level of the defense.


Special Teams

This would have been a game when LSU could have used some big plays on special teams. Jamie Keehn had to punt eight times, and he was the only kicker who saw any action for LSU. The coverage teams were solid, and Trent Domingue did have two returns for 129 yards. But because of the lack of offensive and defensive production, the special teams also took a step back.



While Gus Malzahn had his team prepared, the same can’t be said for Les Miles. Starting Harris on the road against Auburn was a gamble, and it failed. The coaching staff really did not make any adjustments after the first half, and their clock management—especially at the end of the first half—was questionable. In order for LSU to not fall down in the standings, the coaches have to prepare the players better for a tough SEC schedule.


Passing Offense

We always talk about Auburn’s running game, but they are very dangerous through the air. Nick Marshall threw for 207 yards and two touchdowns, while backup Jeremy Johnson threw for 61 yards and completed all three of his passes. Both quarterbacks made great decisions, and the offensive line gave them plenty of time to sit in the pocket and pick the LSU defense apart.


Running Offense

Auburn did not shy away from the run game, tallying 294 yards on the ground. Marshall had 119 yards and two touchdowns, while Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for 126 yards. Because the passing attack was so good, Marshall and Artis-Payne ran at will, and the LSU defense was worn down in the second half.


Passing Defense

The Auburn defense was stout all game long, and it with shutting down Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings. Auburn allowed only 142 yards through the air because the secondary forced both LSU quarterbacks to make bad decisions and the defensive line never made either quarterback comfortable despite getting only one sack.


Running Defense

LSU was able to run for 138 yards, but it was almost empty yards because no running back had more than 42 yards. Led by Montravius Adams, the Auburn defensive line whipped the LSU offensive line, which led the run game for LSU to never get going. It was a big night for the Auburn defense and they should get a lot of credit for their production.


Special Teams

Daniel Carlson had a productive night as he punted three times and made two field goals. He always gave Auburn an opportunity to either make plays on defense or having the chance to score points. Quan Bray did not have any big returns, but it did not matter because the offense was so strong, they could score from anywhere on the field.



Malzahn had a great game plan against LSU. He used a balanced attack of running and passing on offense, and LSU was always on its heels. But credit also has to go to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson. The Auburn defense knew what LSU was going to run, and they completely shut them down. It was the best defensive game Auburn has played all season long, and it was because of the game plan of Johnson.

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Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 6

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott showed the world that he is not only one of the top QBs in the SEC, but he's one of the best players in the entire country. The performance he gave against Texas A&M makes him our Lexus Top Performer of Week 6.

Did Dak Prescott jump to the top of your Heisman board?

Watch the video and let us know!

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