NCAA Football News

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

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

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

Box score via NCAA.com

 

Miami Passing Offense

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

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

 

Miami Rushing Offense

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

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

 

Miami Pass Defense

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

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

 

Miami Run Defense

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

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

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

 

Miami Special Teams

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

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

 

Miami Coaching

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

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

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

 

 

Nebraska Passing Offense

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

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

 

Nebraska Rushing Offense

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

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

We'll give them an "A+."

 

Nebraska Pass Defense

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

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

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

 

Nebraska Run Defense

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

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

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

 

Nebraska Special Teams

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

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

 

Nebraska Coaching

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

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

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

Here are game grades for the Bulldogs and Tigers.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

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

Passing Offense

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

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

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

 

Rushing Offense

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

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

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

 

Passing Defense

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

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

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

 

Rushing Defense

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

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

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

 

Special Teams

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

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

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

 

Coaching

The Sooners coaching staff got off to a rush start. 

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

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

 

All stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

The result was a 23-17 Seminoles victory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson vs. FSU: Score and Twitter Reaction

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

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

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

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

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

Florida State sat on the ball and settled for overtime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

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

The Gamecocks never looked back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Despite Freshman Mistake, Brad Kaaya Shows He Can Carry 'Canes

Brad Kaaya led the Miami Hurricanes offense into a difficult test against Randy Gregory and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, seeking the program's first road win over a ranked team since 2009.

On the biggest stage of his life thus far, Kaaya played like anything but a true freshman for three-and-a-half quarters. He made excellent pre-snap reads, properly identifying pressure and coverages.

Trailing by 10 points with 7:30 remaining, the 'Canes faced a 4th-and-4 at the Nebraska 35-yard line. And only then, Kaaya's inexperience in high-pressure situations became evident with a costly freshman mistake.

He stared down sophomore receiver Malcolm Lewis, the lone wideout in double coverage, and tossed a game-sealing interception. The freshman hadn't locked onto a target that badly all night long.

So, Miami came up short, dropping a hard-fought 41-31 battle to the 'Huskers. Yet even in a losing effort, you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who can put the blame solely on the young quarterback.

The defense allowed 229 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Ameer Abdullah, who seemingly fell forward on every carry. Tommy Armstrong picked up 7.4 yards per attempt. Nebraska converted 7-of-10 third-down situations.

What's more, Duke Johnson's costly fumble handed the Cornhuskers a 10-point lead, an advantage that the Hurricanes could not overcome.

"Pretty poised. I don't care what quarterback you are when your defense gets run on for 346 yards. ...By and large, he's had the tremendous resolve we'd heard about coming into this game," ESPN's Brock Huard said of Kaaya on the broadcast.

From the outset, Kaaya kept Miami competitive in a game it likely should've been blown out of.

The offense's first play was an intermediate route to Lewis right over the middle. Miami is notorious for under-utilizing receivers between the hashes, but offensive coordinator James Coley immediately attacked his own team's weakness.

Later in the quarter, Kaaya didn't get any help from Clive Walford on an interception down the left sideline. The ball was ever-so-slightly underthrown, but the senior tight end failed to fight for it.

The next drive on 3rd-and-3, Kaaya hit Braxton Berrios in the hands, but his fellow freshman dropped the potential first down.

Kaaya fired an accurate pass to Walford that only confident quarterbacks would make since the safety was barreling down on his tight end. On the same possession, the freshman a took a high snap, faked a handoff, located his receiver, snapped a strike to Walford in the end zone and absorbed a hit from free-rushing David Santos.

That's not something a nervous, tentative true freshman does in a deafening environment.

Following a Nebraska score on the opening drive of the second half, Miami needed to respond, lest the 'Huskers get a chance to build a sizeable advantage and control the game.

Whether it was a field goal or touchdown didn't matter, but the Hurricanes could not afford to give Nebraska a chance to take a three-possession lead. Kaaya engineered a 10-play, 76-yard drive that took four minutes and 57 seconds and cut the Cornhuskers' lead to three.

Four times, Miami faced possessions when it absolutely needed points—period, end of discussion-type drives. Kaaya finished those demanding drives with one touchdown, one field goal, one Johnson fumble and one personal mistake.

The freshman's final line read 28-of-42 for 359 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, and he connected with eight different receivers. Even in the loss, the true freshman lifted his squad to the brink of beating a ranked team on the road.

Kaaya proved he can carry Miami; he simply needs a little help from his teammates for the Hurricanes to knock off top competition.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama WR Amari Cooper Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 4

Amari Cooper had himself a day vs. Florida. The junior raked in 10 catches for 201 yards to go along with three TDs. It was his fourth-straight 100-plus-yard receiving game, giving him the honor of our college football top performer. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee discusses Cooper's big day. 

Can Cooper keep this up?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Samaje Perine vs. WVU: Stat Line, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

Oklahoma Sooners freshman tailback Samaje Perine etched his name into the annals of program history against West Virgina Saturday night in his team's 45-33 win.

With the offense sputtering behind the arm of Trevor Knight and the defense struggling with a potent Mountaineers offense, Perine firmly planted the Sooners on his shoulders and exploded for one of the all-time great performances.

The final line more than speaks for itself:

ESPN.com's Jake Trotter revealed that Perine joined legendary collegiate company after surpassing the 200-yard mark:

He also dove into the record books to reveal that only DeMarco Murray and three others have matched him in terms of touchdowns:

For what it is worth, Perine also wrote his name in permanent marker in the West Virginia record books as well, as noted by Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail:

Perine got his first score of the night on a two-yard rush in the second quarter, but erupted in the second half right out of the gate to break a tie at 24 and give his team a lead it would never relinquish—thanks to his two additional touchdowns later in the half, of course.

Clearly, Bob Stoops is not afraid to go with the hot hand, especially after the loss of No. 1 back Keith Ford to injury earlier in the week. Perine had not registered more than 13 carries in each of the team's first three games before exploding for the huge tally Saturday.

While talented names such as Alex Ross pepper the roster, even Stoops had noted before the game that his star freshman does his best work in the second half.

“Samaje gets in there in the second half, and again he’s fresh,” Stoops said, per Ryan Aber ofThe Oklahoman. “He gets in there and he is pounding it. He is a strong, physical player. He has a great base to him. He does everything you want. He catches the ball. He was a big boost there in the second half.”

A back who gets more effective with each carry should ring a few alarm bells for those familiar with the former collegiate greats at the position. In particular, NFL.com's Bryan Fischer has one comparison in mind:

Now 4-0 on the hunt for a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, Oklahoma is in good hands now that Perine has had his thunderous breakout game. Even when Ford returns, it is quite apparent Stoops has a ground game that few teams can match.

Perine cannot be expected to carry the team on his own every game just yet, and Heisman talk is unfounded until he strings together a few more great performances, but it is abundantly clear that a new star running back resides on the block that is collegiate football.

His name is Samaje Perine, and it is one history won't soon forget. What lies ahead is even more exciting.

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma vs. WVU: Score and Twitter Reaction

West Virginia gave Oklahoma a tough challenge early, but running back Samaje Perine made the difference in a 45-33 victory for the No. 4 team in the nation.

The true freshman finished with 242 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries. As Jake Trotter of ESPN.com noted, he put himself in rare company with the performance:

Head coach Bob Stoops is certainly excited for the future after this game:

Trevor Knight had a solid day as well with 205 passing yards, plus a rare receiving touchdown, but it was the running game that helped the Sooners move to 4-0 on the season.

West Virginia also saw key players put up big numbers like quarterback Clint Trickett (376 passing yards and two touchdowns) and receiver Kevin White (10 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown). However, the defense was not able to hold up its end of the bargain to complete the upset. 

With the win, Stoops added another milestone to his resume:

The coach remains one of the best in the sport and is hoping for even bigger things from this year's team.

Saturday's highly anticipated matchup featured plenty of excitement right from the start thanks to a number of huge plays for both sides.

After Oklahoma took the 3-0 lead early, West Virginia answered before the end of the first quarter with a 68-yard touchdown pass from Trickett to White. After the play, Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout was one of many who liked what they saw from the receiver:

The Sooners were eventually able to answer, although it took some trickery to get the first touchdown of the game, as described by ESPN Big 12:

When Trickett was able to throw another impressive touchdown pass, this time to Mario Alford, Sports Illustrated was impressed:

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer noted the strong effort for the Mountaineers defense early to keep it close in the first half:

Of course, this was not easy as the two sides once again traded blows to make it 24-17 in favor of the home team. Oklahoma then immediately tied it up with a 100-yard kickoff return by Alex Ross.

Fox Sports joked about the action of the game as the two sides went into halftime tied at 24-24:

The scoring continued early in the second half. Oklahoma needed less than three minutes to go 75 yards and finish with a Perine touchdown, which caught the attention of Bryan Fischer of NFL.com:

After the running back scored again to go up 38-27, David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest gave credit to the big men up front:

The Sooners also saw an improved effort from the defense, which forced multiple turnovers in the second half to slow West Virginia's attack. 

In the fourth quarter, the favorites once again turned to its star running back:

West Virginia added another score to make it 45-33 but it was too little, too late as the home team fell to 2-2 on the season.

Oklahoma came into the game preparing for a hostile environment in Morgantown, as Knight explained earlier in the week:

Their fans will be rocking. But it’s important to use some of their crowd’s energy to get you going, to get that momentum going and really just use it. Going on the road is difficult, especially with a team like West Virginia who has been playing great. So we just have to find that energy within ourselves and play for one another and stay even-keeled through it. 

Although there were certainly some scary moments, the sophomore quarterback handled the pressure and did enough to help his team pull out the win.

The national title contenders have a week off but could have another tough challenge on Oct. 4 in a road game against 2-0 TCU. After a close call in this one, the Sooners will likely have a lot to work on if they want to remain undefeated.

Meanwhile, this game represents the second "moral victory" of the year for West Virginia, which also had a 10-point loss to Alabama earlier in the season. Although this does not count for a win in the standings, it will certainly give the group a lot of momentum going forward.

The Mountaineers also have a bye week but will be able to return with a winnable matchup against Kansas at home on Oct. 4. After a 4-8 2013 season, this team appears on its way to a much better year this time around.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Winners and Losers from Week 4 of College Football

Week 4 is nearly in the books. Don't be fooled by a smaller schedule of games. There have already been statement wins by Alabama and Mississippi State, and a dramatic overtime win by Florida State over Clemson. That's not to mention a key Auburn win over Kansas State on Thursday. 

It's been a wild weekend, to be sure. 

As you can see, Winners and Losers is up before the full slate of college football games has ended. No worries, as the post will be updated throughout the evening as events warrant. 

So let's get the conversation going. Which teams, players, coaches and/or moments were the best from Week 4? Which ones struggled?

Begin Slideshow

Mississippi State vs. LSU Is the Shocker of the 2014 Season

From a gambling standpoint, Mississippi State's 34-29 upset of LSU Saturday night in Death Valley wasn't the most shocking upset of the season. After all, the Tigers were between a seven- and nine-point favorite when toe met leather, according to OddsShark.com.

The way Mississippi State won, however, made it the most shocking upset of the 2014 season.

There was no fluke, lucky bounce or reverse Death Valley voodoo working for the Bulldogs in this one—although LSU tried to make one happen late coming off the deck to make this game appear closer on the scoreboard than it was in real life.

Mississippi State lined up, punched LSU in the mouth and when it got back up, punched it again.

And again...and again.

Even when LSU's players show up at the complex tomorrow, they'll still be feeling the physical beatdown Dan Mullen's crew gave them in Baton Rouge.

The Bulldogs beat the Tigers up in the trenches like it was a directional Louisiana school, not an LSU program whose hallmark is physical, smashmouth football.

Running back Josh Robinson had 197 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Dak Prescott added 105 yards and a touchdown on the ground in addition to his 268 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air. The 570 total yards gained by Mississippi State set a record that LSU head coach Les Miles has to be disappointed by.

It's an upset that shakes up the entire college football world.

LSU didn't look anything like a team that could compete in the rugged SEC West, while Mississippi State looked not only capable of impacting the outcome, but winning it itself.

Led by three-time defending SEC defensive lineman of the week Preston Smith, the Bulldogs roll nine or 10 players along their defensive line, including all-around freak Chris Jones.

The fresh bodies allow the Bulldogs to keep pressure on for a full four quarters, which was a big reason LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings was sacked three times and running for his life more times than not.

That wasn't a fluke, it was a statement. A statement that this isn't the same Mississippi State team that had a 2-22 record against top-25 teams under Dan Mullen. A statement that Mississippi State isn't afraid to go on the road and win playing its own brand of football.

That's scary.

Other upsets this year were impressive, like Virginia Tech's win on the road at Ohio State and Boston College running it down USC's throat. Neither of those resonated like this one will.

This is a perpetual doormat imposing its will on a traditional power on the road in the toughest division in college football.

Statement made.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott a Legitimate Contender for Heisman Trophy?

Mississippi State QB Dak Prescott has emerged onto the national scene. After a huge performance vs. LSU, is it safe to say that Prescott is now in the Heisman conversation?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate the breakout quarterback.

Does Prescott have the goods to be the Heisman winner?

Watch the video and let us know!

  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson's Mike Williams Dives for Incredible Catch to Set Up TD vs. FSU

After getting in the red zone twice without being able to put points on the board, the Clemson Tigers punched in the go-ahead score one play after this beautiful catch from wide receiver Mike Williams.

If you look closely, you can see that Williams actually loses his shoe while making the catch. The big play went for 39 yards and set up a two-yard Deshaun Watson touchdown run.

[via gifdsports]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dak Prescott vs. LSU: Stat Line, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

Did Dak Prescott just enter the Heisman Trophy discussion?

The Mississippi State quarterback was spectacular on Saturday night, throwing for 268 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-24 passing, in addition to 22 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs' 34-29 win over No. 8 LSU.

ESPN's Holly Rowe was succinct with her assessment of Prescott's performance:

Mississippi State had previously been on a 15-game losing streak against ranked opponents, per ESPN Stats and Info:

Also, Prescott wasn't even alive the last time the Bulldogs won in Death Valley:

Prescott gave the Bulldogs an early 7-0 lead with a nine-yard touchdown pass to De'Runnya Wilson (via ESPN College Football):

Cameras quickly panned to Prescott's father, which Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer felt was a cool moment:

Little did the elder Prescott know what was in store for his son on Saturday night.

LSU was knocking on the door in the third quarter, closing its deficit to seven points after Danielle Hunter returned a fumble 25 yards for a touchdown.

With Mississippi State clinging to a 17-10 lead, Prescott was the man of the moment, running 56 yards to the end zone and putting the Bulldogs once again up double digits.

Prescott's mobility was again on show when he bought some time in the pocket before finding Jameon Lewis for a 74-yard touchdown pass:

Former Alabama QB and current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy felt like he was seeing a Johnny Manziel clone in Tiger Stadium:

Prescott slowed down a bit in the fourth quarter as LSU made its final comeback, but he did just enough to hold on to the lead.

Looking the Heisman race, it's still way too early to insert Prescott as a serious contender. As NFL.com's Bryan Fischer alluded to, Prescott has plenty of competition from his own division in the form of Kenny Hill and Amari Cooper:

The beauty of the SEC is that Mississippi State has plenty more tough games down the road with which Prescott can build a strong Heisman resume.

If he follows up Saturday night with great showings against Texas A&M, Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss, then we can really start talking about the QB getting a trip to New York City.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi State vs. LSU: How Bulldogs' Win Reshapes Playoff Picture

The usual LSU comeback led by coach Les Miles was in full force Saturday night in the waning moments of a 34-29 home loss to Mississippi State that throws the inaugural playoff picture for a loop.

Led by sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings, the Tigers have had issues on offense all season long, but it is hard to remember the defense getting so thoroughly torched on the way to a loss. In total, the Tigers gave up 570 yards of offense.

Author Clay Travis put it best:

While Jennings fought through an injury scare to finish with a 13-of-26 mark for 157 yards, it was Bulldogs star quarterback Dak Prescott who put on arguably the best show of the week.

The junior dual-threat quarterback finished with a 15-of-24 line for 268 yards and two scores, while also making a fool of the LSU defense on the ground with 22 carries for 105 yards and a score—with his 56-yard scamper being one of the top highlights of the week.

To be blunt, the upset was not all that difficult to see coming given the well-known offensive issues for LSU. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs had held three opponents to a total of 37 points while posting 35 or more in each contest thanks to Prescott's explosiveness.

Before the contest, even Miles was wary of the strong roster Dan Mullen has crafted.

"I can tell you that this Mississippi State team is talented as any and is capable as any and maybe as complete, offense, defense, special teams, as any Mississippi State team we've seen," Miles said, per Michael Bonner of The Clarion-Ledger.

With LSU seemingly bowing out of the playoff picture for the time being, the Tigers will need to perform better in contests down the road against Auburn, Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M, with those final two being of particular importantance.

Nick Saban's Crimson Tide seems all but a lock to make a serious run at an undefeated mark by season's end—the quarterback question got an answer Saturday in a 42-21 win over Florida as Blake Sims threw for 445 yards and four scores.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M scoffs at the idea it would not have been a contender this year without Johnny Manziel. Quarterback Kenny Hill has had the look of an undercover Heisman contender so far and has the Aggies looking like a serious threat for the playoff.

Despite the strong showing from the Bulldogs Saturday night, they happen to share the same opponents named as hurdles for LSU above. Even worse, the team's next game comes at the start of October against the Aggies, followed by Auburn. The only saving grace? Both contests come at home.

On a day that Alabama emerged as the favorite once again, nothing short of running the table in the brutal SEC seems like the key to the playoff.

A note from Bryan Fischer of NFL.com puts things into perspective:

As if fans would want it any other way.

With LSU exposed in brutal fashion, Mississippi State is now one of the most dangerous teams in the nation, even in the playoff race. But so it goes in the SEC—we could just as easily be labeling the Bulldogs frauds after their upcoming encounter with Texas A&M.

For now, the inaugural playoff has a shocking entrant led by an unheralded quarterback who continues to run wild.

 

AP poll via The Associated Press. Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi State vs. LSU: Score and Twitter Reaction

A clash of SEC teams can yield some unexpected results, and that was exactly the case on Saturday night when the Mississippi State Bulldogs defeated the No. 8 LSU Tigers by a score of 34-29. This outcome will surely shift the balance of power going forward in one of the nation's strongest conferences.

The Associated Press (via ESPN.com) supplied MSU head coach Dan Mullen's thoughts on the win after the game:

"I probably aged seven to 10 years in the final three minutes of the game," said sixth-year Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen. "We are trying to build a program and I'll take it. I guess everybody can now write now I have beaten LSU and Alabama once during my career."

"There was not one bit of panic or one bit of concern," Mullen said. "Our guys played with a lot of confidence. We made plays when we needed to. We have been doing that all year. When we need a big play, guys step up and make them."

LSU was put on upset alert from the onset of the game thanks to some accurate passing from Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. The junior signal-caller completed four passes on the opening six-play, 51-yard drive capped off by a nine-yard touchdown strike to De'Runnya Wilson.

Rivals.com noted the game's early score:

Later in the opening quarter, LSU was halted by the Bulldogs defense after attempting to reach the end zone on a 4th-and-goal. After the turnover on downs, Mississippi State took over on their own 2-yard line. The Prescott-to-Wilson connection took over the game once again.

The quarterback hit his favorite target for gains of 26 and 44 yards on a five-play, 98-yard drive that was finished with a three-yard touchdown run by Josh Robinson.

Shea Dixon of 247Sports gave his early take on Wilson's excellent play:

The game continued to get out of hand for the Tigers, as another punt from the offense led to a 27-yard field goal from Evan Sobiesk, increasing the Bulldogs' lead to 17-0. Luckily for the Tigers, Anthony Jennings was able to connect twice with Travin Dural to set up a Colby Delahoussaye 30-yard field goal that finally got LSU on the board.

Entering the second half, it was clear LSU would need to make significant adjustments to get back into the game, as the home team trailed 17-3.

Well, it only took one play for the Tigers to get right back into the mix. Kwon Alexander stripped Prescott, and Danielle Hunter scooped up the loose ball and returned it 25 yards for an LSU touchdown. Chad Washington of The Daily Advertiser tweeted the action:

Suddenly Mississippi State's lead dwindled to just seven points. Prescott made sure it didn't stay that way, quickly atoning for his fumble by bursting through the LSU defense for a 56-yard touchdown scamper.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee has been impressed with Prescott for quite some time now. He reminded everyone after the quarterback's scintillating score:

All it took was one more LSU punt for Prescott to continue his onslaught. He hooked up with Jameon Lewis for a 74-yard score. Facing plenty of pressure, Prescott eluded the rush, found some room to maneuver and hit a wide-open Lewis who ran to paydirt.

ESPN SEC tweeted what the score meant for LSU:

The fourth quarter began with Mississippi State knocking at the door once again. But LSU's winded defense held strong on a 3rd-and-goal from the 11-yard line, forcing a 28-yard field goal. Down by 24 points, the Tigers had little time remaining to make up their deficit and retain their position among the Top 10.

LSU answered the challenge on the ensuing drive. Jennings hooked up with Dural for a 49-yard gain deep into Mississippi State territory. Two Kenny Hilliard runs later, the Tigers were awarded six points—the team attempted a two-point conversion but failed.

While that touchdown gave LSU a bit of hope, the team's defense was just too tired to stop Robinson, who continued to bounce off would-be tacklers while allowing precious seconds to tick off the game clock.

ESPN SEC summed up the dangerous Robinson with this tweet:

With nine minutes remaining in the contest the Bulldogs sensed victory and allowed backups to enter the game—something not many onlookers would have thought before the team traveled to Baton Rouge. Although, that action may have been premature.

LSU reserve quarterback Brandon Harris was able to take advantage, gaining some positive yards late in the final quarter and tossing his team's first touchdown strike of the day—a 31-yarder to Malachi Dupre.

Dixon tweeted his take:

That appeared to be the final score of the contest; however, a botched snap on the ensuing possession led to another appearance from Harris. The freshman delivered once again, tossing a jump ball to Dupre in the corner of the end zone to get his team within five points of the Bulldogs.

ESPN SEC tweeted the implications of the quarterback's play:

From there, the Bulldogs ran down the clock well inside one minute but gave the Tigers offense one more chance. A laser from Harris advanced LSU into position for a Hail Mary, but his final deep attempt was intercepted. Mississippi State finally closed out their opponent, winning by a score of 34-29.

The loss is devastating to LSU, as the team is surely poised for a tumble down the rankings. Expect the Tigers to still hold a Top 25 standing; however, chances of the team entering the College Football Playoff may be rather slim at this point.

The Tigers will attempt to right the ship in Week 5 against New Mexico State, and they'll have to get things together in a hurry, as No. 5 Auburn will be waiting in Week 6.

A big win for Mississippi State virtually assures the team a Top 25 designation heading into Week 5 of the 2014 college football season. The Bulldogs generated enough points to rank 28th in the AP Poll heading into Week 4, and after this enormous victory, they'll surge up the rankings.

Although, a tough test lies ahead for this surging team. After a Week 5 bye, Kenny Hill and the No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies are next on the slate and are coming off a 58-6 rout of SMU on Saturday. Hang on to your hats, because that will certainly be a good matchup.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke Make It Through the 2014 Season?

Brady Hoke’s first game as head coach ended with an epic thunderstorm that canceled the rest of the game. Another thunderstorm suspended Michigan’s 26-10 loss to Utah that may mark the symbolic end of his tenure.

Brady Hoke has fumbled his chance to rebuild Michigan and it will cost him his job.

Over the last three seasons, Michigan fans have relied on an array of excuses to explain the team’s gradual slide under Hoke—he needed to restock the roster, the players needed to mature or his coaches (specifically offensive coordinator Al Borges) weren’t up to the task.

Sports Illustrated shared a tweet about Hoke's seat warming up after the Utah loss:

But after a shocking 31-0 loss to Notre Dame, a lackluster 34-10 victory over Miami University and an embarrassing 26-10 loss to Utah the pressure is squarely on Hoke to beat Michigan State and Ohio State—or else.

The heat turned up last season as Michigan stumbled through a 1-4 November stretch followed by a disappointing 31-14 bowl loss to Kansas State. A 7-6 finish in Hoke’s third season was not what fans expected. Athletic director David Brandon may have pledged his support for Hoke, but it didn’t extend to his staff.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges was replaced by Doug Nussmeier, and the defensive staff was shuffled.

Despite the turmoil, prior to the season Brandon called continued speculation that Hoke was on the hot seat, "nonsense," during a radio interview with Detroit Sports 105.1 FM, courtesy of MLive.com (via Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports):

That's websites and that's bloggers and that's social media and that's all part of the game that's played out there -- let's stir up controversy. This happens every year. I can't do very much about that, other than (say), that's nonsense. ... All this hot seat stuff, to me, is just nonsense. I don't pay any attention to it.

But Hoke's tenuous position was described perfectly by Martin Rickman at SI.com which listed him as one of the 10 coaches on the hot seat entering this season:

The bad news is Michigan just watched Michigan State win the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl while the Wolverines limped to a 7-6 season including a loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Michigan can’t finish barely above .500 again, not with the rest of the league getting better and Ohio State continuing to dominate the rivalry.

But with Michigan entering the Big Ten season with after two nonconference losses, the program appears to be sliding even further behind its key rivals.

Hoke now needs wins over both Michigan State and Ohio State to save his job.

Michigan is a paltry 4-6 versus Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State and 0-5 on the road versus those teams. The losses are bad enough, but Michigan has not been competitive in its two recent visits to East Lansing or this season versus Notre Dame.

Even before the loss to Utah, Bill Bender at Sporting News predicted that Hoke’s job would only be saved by wins over Michigan State and Ohio State.

Michigan might have 10 games left this season, but Brady Hoke's job evaluation comes down to just two of them. Hoke has to beat either Michigan State or Ohio State on the road after last week's 31-0 loss at Notre Dame. Given that Michigan is 0-5 against the Irish, Buckeyes and Spartans on the road since Hoke took over, it's a fair test.

The team's struggles have also caused Hoke to draw ire from a prominent member of the Michigan football family. Braylon Edwards voiced the sentiments of many fans in a recent interview with Matt Dery of FM105.1 (via Nick Baumgardner with MLive.com):

It's year four, people want to see results in year four. The first couple years they'll give you excuses ... but in year four, you've got your own guys, your own players, your own staff and we want to see the results of your program. A lot of pressure is on Brady to win three [rivalry ] games. He lost one. He lost one of the three and there's a lot of pressure on him to win the other two.

And you know which one I'm talking about. If he doesn't perform well in those games, he's going to be facing a lot of questions at the end of the season and they might not be questions he wants to face.

Hoke's failure versus rivals is even more disappointing to fans in the wake of Michigan State’s ascendance. Michigan has long dominated its “little brother,” but the tables have turned since the retirement of Lloyd Carr.

The Spartans have won the Big Ten twice (2010, 2013), while gaining victories in their last three bowl games and climbing to No. 3 in the national rankings last season.

With Michigan now sharing the Big Ten East division with Michigan State and Ohio State it will need to beat both to compete for the Big Ten Championship—one of Hoke's main goals since returning to Ann Arbor.

After two losses where Michigan has failed to even get in the red zone, the task looks insurmountable,  especially since both games are on the road. 

But Hoke remains undaunted.

"Our goal (of winning the Big Ten) is still out there," he said during his postgame press conference.

But now it's about more than just winning a conference title, it's about saving his job.

 

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

Follow
@PSCallihan

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mario Edwards Jr. Injury: Updates on FSU Star's Concussion and Return

Florida State will have to play the rest of its game against Clemson without star defender Mario Edwards Jr.

Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times notes the defensive end is out with a concussion:

The junior was a key part of the Seminoles defense thanks to his ability to get into the backfield and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He had one sack on the year coming into the Week 4 game against Clemson, but he was impressive early in the matchup against the Tigers, as noted by Jared Shanker of ESPN:

With Edwards out of the game, Florida State will need other players like DeMarcus Walker and Derrick Mitchell Jr. to step up defensively. Safety Jalen Ramsey has also shown the ability to get to the quarterback this season and could be helpful in blitz packages.

Regardless of what happens against Clemson, the defending national champions will hope the defensive end can return to the field before missing too much time.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Army Linebacker Blatantly Flops During Scrum vs. Wake Forest

Army linebacker Stephen Ricciardi's dive attempt won't earn him an Oscar and it definitely won't earn him a flag. 

In the final seconds of Army's 24-21 loss to Wake Forest on Saturday, Ricciardi dramatically flew out of the back of a scrum in an attempt to earn a personal foul flag on his opponents. It was painfully obvious that he was acting and the referee was having no part of it.

[via @SportsCenter]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages