NCAA Football News

Oregon vs. UCLA: Ducks Prove They're Still Legit Playoff Contenders

Count Oregon out of the College Football Playoff picture already? As ESPN’s Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend!”                                       

After a disappointing Thursday night loss at home to the Arizona Wildcats, the Oregon Ducks (5-1, 2-1) bounced back in a significant way against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl. The Ducks not only dismantled the Bruins by the score of 42-30—a score that doesn’t fully reflect the nature of the blowout—but also catapulted themselves back into the national playoff picture.

 

Ducks Show Improvement

The Ducks finally looked like themselves again after three subpar performances against Wyoming, Washington State and Arizona. The Bruins stopped Oregon on their first two offensive possessions; however, the Ducks defense stepped up against Brett Hundley on the Bruins second drive by forcing a sack and fumble, which the Ducks recovered deep in Bruins territory. Marcus Mariota ran for a 13-yard touchdown on the following play, and the Ducks grabbed an early 8-0 lead following a two-point conversion.

It was all Ducks from there on out, as Oregon jumped on the Bruins to take a 42-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. Despite a late comeback by the Bruins, a Ducks victory was never in question.

Oregon’s biggest concerns coming into the game were the offensive line, poor defensive play and penalties caused by mental lapses. The Ducks improved tremendously in all three areas against the Bruins.

First, Oregon’s offensive line, a unit that had allowed 12 sacks in the prior two contests against Washington State and Arizona, didn’t allow a single sack of Mariota against UCLA. Most of the improvement was due to the return of left tackle Jake Fisher. Fisher did a tremendous job blocking Mariota’s blind side and solidified a line that had been so beleaguered in conference play.

Oregon’s defense, despite giving up 553 yards—including 328 on the ground—managed to allow only 10 points to a potent Bruins offense before letting off the gas late in the fourth quarter. The Ducks routinely put pressure on Hundley, forcing two turnovers along the way—both of which led to Oregon touchdowns.

The Ducks also helped their cause by not committing penalties. After committing 10 penalties against Arizona, the Ducks only committed four against UCLA.

Another one of Oregon’s concerns heading into the game was the rushing attack that had been held in check so far in conference play. Against Washington State and Arizona the Ducks had averaged only 158 yards per game on the ground. However, with a stronger offensive line, the Ducks managed to rack up 258 yards on 41 carries.

Oregon has now beaten UCLA in each of their last six meetings and has defeated two teams—the Bruins and Michigan State—that were ranked in the Associated Press' Top 10 before the season.

If the Ducks can build on this performance, get solid offensive line play for the rest of the year and continue to force turnovers defensively, they’ll be in a strong position in every game the rest of the year.

 

Mariota the Star

The Ducks were once again lead by the redshirt junior quarterback Marcus Mariota, who scored four touchdowns on the day—two on the ground and two through the air. Mariota, who once again vaulted himself to the top of the Heisman rankings, now has scored 19 touchdowns on the season—15 passing, three rushing, one receiving. Mariota has also yet to throw an interception.

The Ducks are only going to go as far as Marcus Mariota can take them. However, they’re going to need the offensive line to keep protecting him, as it did against UCLA.

Mariota is most effective when he has time in the pocket and is able to improvise and make plays with his legs. Against UCLA, Mariota not only had time in the pocket to maneuver but also the Ducks running game finally got going. When the Ducks are able to run the ball effectively, Mariota is even more difficult to stop because defenses have to account for everything the Ducks bring to the table.

On the day Mariota completed 17 of 27 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 75 yards and two more touchdowns on seven carries.

In short, Mariota dominated the Bruins with his arm and legs while effectively managing the Ducks potent offense to 42 points.

Mariota not only vaulted himself once again to the top of the Heisman race but also proved he is more than capable of coming through in big conference road games.

More tests are ahead for Mariota; however, if he continues playing at this level the Ducks should be able to beat any team in the Pac-12.

 

The Road Ahead

While the Ducks certainly played their best conference game of the season and perhaps their best game overall this year, they still have a lot of room for improvement going forward.

As we mentioned, the Ducks defense allowed 553 yards of offense to the Bruins, though a significant portion of those yards came in the fourth quarter when UCLA was down by 32 points. Regardless, Oregon’s defense is going to need to improve against the run and solidify its pass defense, both of which have been shaky in conference play.

The offensive line, while it played well today, is still trying to find its way and must stay injury free for the rest of the season in order for the Ducks to have a shot at the playoff.

Lastly, the Ducks must continue to build their identity as a mentally tough team. Coming back and beating UCLA thoroughly after a crushing loss to Arizona is a start. However, Oregon must continue to prove to the rest of the Pac-12 that they’re not going to beat themselves like they did against Arizona.

Oregon, after its second road conference win the of the season, is now firmly back in the playoff chase and now must be considered the favorite to win the Pac-12 North title and advance to the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5.

Another loss in conference play would almost definitely take the Ducks out of playoff contention. A game against a tough Washington team awaits Oregon next week.

However, the team's toughest test will come on Nov. 1 when the Stanford Cardinal come roaring into town. Fresh off a 34-17 victory over Washington State, the Cardinal are right back into contention for the Pac-12 North title. The Ducks have lost two consecutive games to Stanford—both with Mariota under center.

If the Ducks have playoff dreams they'll have to overcome the team that has prevented them from winning a Pac-12 title the past two seasons. But if the Ducks continue to play the way they did against UCLA, they’re going to be right in the mix come mid-December.

 

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

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How Gus Malzahn's Play-Calling Cost Auburn the Game vs. Mississippi State

In a game that featured two teams desperately trying to give the game to each other, it was No. 3 Mississippi State that prevailed over No. 2 Auburn 38-23 in Starkville.

The Bulldogs have Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn to thank.

The Tigers' second-year head coach didn't strike when the iron was hot, got away from his bread and butter in the middle and didn't trust the hot hand when one surfaced early in the first half.

Where did Malzahn go wrong?

 

Early Momentum Left on the Table

Auburn turned the ball over on its first two plays of the game, led to the 21-0 hole it found itself in at the end of the first quarter.

However the Bulldogs set the Tigers up for a fast comeback as gave the Tigers the ball and good field position four straight times.  Surprisingly, the mighty Auburn offense was only able to notch 13 points off these opportunities.

It could have cashed in much more, if Malzahn had not gone ultraconservative with his play calling. 

After Mississippi State punter Logan Cooke threw an interception to Johnathan Ford on an inexplicable fake, Auburn quickly put itself into a 1st-and-goal situation from the 7-yard line, down 21-0.

Four plays to get seven yards isn't too tall of an order, even against Mississippi State's rush defense.

On 3rd-and-goal from the 4-yard line, you'd figure—down 21—Auburn had two plays to get four yards.

Wrong.

Malzahn called a reverse pass with tight end C.J. Uzomah—who played quarterback in high school—which Mississippi State covered beautifully, forcing Auburn to settle for a 21-yard Daniel Carlson field goal.

Allie Davison of AuburnSports.com questioned the curious reverse pass on third down:

If you run a play like that in that situation following a huge momentum swing, you do it with another in mind on fourth down to cut the lead to two touchdowns. At that point in the game, Auburn desperately needed seven, not three.

Later, Jonathan Jones picked off Bulldog quarterback Dak Prescott on the next drive near midfield.  After driving down inside the 10-yard line, wide receiver Sammie Coates stepped out of bounds and was called for illegal touching on what would have been a touchdown on 3rd-and-5.  The Tigers settled for another chip-shot field goal.

It was a different situation than the previous drive, but with two downs to get five yards leaning on Auburn's rushing attack is the safest and most responsible course of action. 

In that situation, on the road in a hostile environment, Auburn got too cute. It might have cost the Tigers the national title.

Auburn played not to lose early, which is a big reason why it lost late.

 

Pass-Happy Game Plan

Auburn's entire goal this offseason was to be more balanced, but on Saturday, it seemed forced.

Quarterback Nick Marshall was 17-of-35 for 209 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on the day. More balance? Certainly. The Tigers ran 43 running plays (55.1 percent), which is more balance than last year, when the Tigers ran on 71.9 percent of their plays.

Why force it, though?

Marshall is at his best when he's operating the zone read and using tempo to his advantage. Does the absence of tackle Greg Robinson and running back Tre Mason hurt? Sure, but Shon Coleman is more than capable of filling in at left tackle, and Auburn still has a stable of running backs.

In the third quarter on Saturday, Auburn got the ball, down eight, with a ton of momentum. After a completion to D'haquille "Duke" Williams got Auburn near midfield, Marshall threw three straight incompletions before the Tigers punted.

Malzahn defended the decision after the game, according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com:

The next drive, it was more of the same. Marshall threw an incomplete to Quan Bray on first down and got Auburn's offense off-schedule. The Tigers are at their best when they can get into 2nd-and-6-type situations. In the slop, on the road, Malzahn didn't give his team much of a chance to do that.

It seems like Auburn tried to overcorrect this offseason and force a new identity on this offense, rather than letting one develop on its own. It cost them on Saturday.

 

Do You Smell What the Roc Is Cookin'?

Freshman running back Roc Thomas has essentially been a backup for the first five games of the season, but there he was in Starkville in the biggest game of the college football season getting significant carries on Auburn's fourth drive of the game, rushing three times for 36 yards to get Auburn inside the red zone.

He had three carries over the final three-and-a-half quarters.

Known as more of a mix between bruiser Cameron Artis-Payne and speedster Corey Grant, Thomas showed in the first quarter that he has the moves to make defenders miss in space and keep plays alive when Auburn needed it most.

Where did he go?

Auburn has a pretty good rotation working at running back with Artis-Payne and Grant, but why stay married to it if the freshman shows he can handle more responsibility in a tight spot?

Some of those five-yard gains could have turned into 15-yard chunks, which could have drastically changed the game. 

At times on Saturday afternoon, both Auburn and Mississippi State did what they could to hand the game to the other team. Auburn didn't take it, mostly because Malzahn's play-calling was uncharacteristically suspect.

Luckily for Auburn, considering the way this season has gone around the country, it's down but not out.

 

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.

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Did Mississippi State Just Prove It Is the Best Team in the Country?

Mississippi State has had no trouble against top competition this season, beating three top-10 teams in as many games. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate whether Mississippi is the clear No. 1 team in the nation. 

Is Mississippi State your top team?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Bryce Petty vs. TCU: Stat Line, Heisman Impact and Reaction

Just when it looked like the No. 9-ranked TCU Horned Frogs were going to completely lay waste to the college football preseason rankings by defeating No. 5 Baylor, along came Bears quarterback Bryce Petty

The senior signal-caller led his team to a stirring 61-58 comeback victory over TCU on Saturday, staking his claim to a spot in the Heisman trophy race and sending shockwaves across the college football landscape with his incredible stat line. 

Petty put in some of his best work with his team down 21 points in the fourth quarter. He tossed two touchdowns and confidently led the Bears back from the brink of defeat to a famous victory. His completion percentage notwithstanding, it was an amazing performance that should keep Baylor in the College Football Playoff hunt.

ESPN College Football gave props to Petty and provided a look at the Bears celebrating after the final whistle:

Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis believes the performance puts Petty right back in the Heisman race:

The Texas native threw for nine touchdowns and one interception in four games, while adding three scores on the ground. It's been plenty good enough for Baylor to put up some monstrous numbers, including a 63-21 win over Buffalo. However, the win over TCU represents Baylor's first victory of the season over a ranked opponent.

Petty did throw two interceptions in the contest, including a pick-six that gave TCU a 58-37 lead in the fourth quarter. However, SB Nation's Wescott Eberts noted that a Petty pick is a rare occurrence:

NFL.com's Bryan Fischer wasn't blown away by his performance, noting Petty's reliance on wide receivers KD Cannon and Antwan Goodley: 

Of course, this ignores Petty's game-tying touchdown throw to Corey Coleman, who finished with eight catches and two scores. 

The back and forth affair was high profile and highly entertaining. Petty was quick to head off criticism the Bears may face after narrowly escaping with a win, per ESPN Central Texas' Craig Smoak:

The Bears will have to answer questions about their defense after this contest, but with Petty leading one of the most explosive offenses in college football, they could very well be the class of the Big-12 this season.

Mississippi State's Dak Prescott is still likely the leading candidate among quarterbacks for the Heisman, but   if Petty can lead his team to a November 8 victory over Oklahoma and put up similar numbers, he could indeed be in line for a surprise run as the nation's best college football player.

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Nick Saban Goes Insane After Muffed Punt vs. Arkansas

The Alabama Crimson Tide didn't score a single point in the first quarter against Arkansas on Saturday, but they did have two turnovers.

After muffing a punt near the end of the quarter, Saban went insane on the sideline. The defense was able to keep Ole Miss scoreless as well, but Saban couldn't stand the sloppy play.

Here's the muffed punt that made Saban go nuts.

[The Big Lead]

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TCU vs. Baylor: Score and Twitter Reaction

With their defense unable to force stops and everything going against them, the Baylor Bears needed quarterback Bryce Petty to have a career-best performance. He had just that in a 61-58 comeback win over No. 9 TCU on Saturday.

Petty threw for 510 yards and six touchdowns—both career highs—and overcame two interceptions to lead Baylor back from a three-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter. His late heroics helped set up Chris Callahan for a game-winning 28-yard field goal that gave the Bears an improbable victory.

Trevone Boykin led the Horned Frogs with 287 passing yards, and B.J. Catalon had three total touchdowns to give TCU the edge late. But they were no match for Petty's stardom, as he rose to the occasion and re-emerged into the Heisman conversation in the process.

Regardless of the result, it was a shootout from both teams that wasn't for defensive traditionalists, as Paul Myerberg of USA Today noted:

Here's a glance at the final box score:

Despite entering Saturday at 5-0 and in the Top 10, head coach Art Briles conceded coming into the game that his team is better than the Big 12 champions he coached in 2013—although it hasn't come to the surface just yet.

“That’s just the bottom line,” Briles said, per ESPN.com's Max Olson. “We are not where we need to be or have to be to have a chance to win the conference again. But I do think we are a better football team than we were a year ago at this time.” 

The confidence wasn't lost on either side in this Top 10 bout for Big 12 supremacy, as Gary Patterson flexed his defensive muscle on the opening coin flip, per NFL.com's Gil Brandt:

Briles' comments about his team's need for improvement rang truer than the ringing endorsement, at least early on. Meanwhile, Patterson's decision paid off nicely. 

TCU forced a turnover on downs on Baylor's opening 13-play drive, and the Horned Frogs wasted no time taking advantage. Boykin led them down the field and hit Kolby Listenbee for a 35-yard score with 9:32 left in the first.

After Shock Linwood fumbled for Baylor just four plays later, Boykin looked to Listenbee again for a 51-yard bomb. Catalon then punched it in from three yards out.

Suddenly, McLane Stadium had a hush over it as TCU had jumped out to a 14-0 lead in less than eight minutes. As Olson said, the Horned Frogs weren't quiet about their aggressive mindset early:

Fox Sports Live summed up some painful context for Baylor:

After a wacky start to the game in Waco, things settled down a bit with four straight punts. But before you could blink, it turned into another old-fashioned Big 12 shootout. 

Petty started it in style with a 66-yard touchdown to Antwan Goodley, and a 47-yard pass on the next drive set up a short field goal to make it 14-10. But right when Baylor threatened the lead, it fell flat on defense to start the second quarter.

A drive that started on their own 10-yard line ended with the Horned Frogs going up 21-10 on another Catalon rushing touchdown. They needed a fourth-down conversion to get it, as the Big 12 noted:

Just like you'd expect a Briles team to do, Baylor answered as Petty orchestrated his longest drive of the game—10 plays, which ended with a 29-yard touchdown to Corey Coleman. A few minutes later, it was all tied up at 24 apiece after Petty's 67-yard strike to KD Cannon.

McLane Stadium was rocking after the quick comeback, but it didn't even last one play. Upon the Baylor kickoff, Catalon broke free on the resulting return and took it to the house for a 94-yard touchdown.

Catalon had three touchdowns at the half, and he was undoubtedly TCU's biggest weapon any time it had the ball, as Sporting News' Matt Hayes noticed:

Baylor's defense on the play, however, was questionable, as The Associated Press' Ralph D. Russo observed:

Both teams felt confident at the half—TCU dominated almost every facet, while Baylor had to feel invigorated to be within a score after holding on during the Horned Frogs' early rally.

But after playing turnover-free ball in the first half, Petty made a big mistake in his own territory, as Kevin White intercepted his pass to give the Horned Frogs great field position.

Then, Baylor's defense returned the favor and bailed Petty out, forcing a TCU field goal that was answered by the Bears on the very next drive. However, Baylor missed an opportunity for a game-tying touchdown, as John McClain of the Houston Chronicle noticed:

With both teams surpassing the 30-point mark, Aaron Green decided it was time to get in on the action.

Green got a 3rd-and-1 carry—his first touch of the game—in TCU territory and broke free for 59 yards into the Baylor secondary. The only problem? He couldn't hold onto the ball, but ESPN's Travis Haney noted Josh Doctson jumped on it at the 1-yard line:

That failed potential Baylor recovery was a huge swing, as TCU punched it in for a 41-30 lead the very next play and forced a Baylor three-and-out late in the third quarter. 

With the chance to take a big lead, TCU went to what was working—Boykin to Listenbee. They connected on an ill-advised 45-yard throw that helped to set up another Horned Frog field goal, this one making it a two-touchdown game.

The potential was always there for both players, but they validated all the hype with standout performances Saturday, as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Ryan Osborne noticed:

Another short drive ended in another Petty touchdown—a 47-yard touchdown to Jay Lee—to cut the deficit to seven, but try as they might, the Bears couldn't keep up with the Horned Frogs offense that was scoring at ease. It got the ball back and went 68 yards in three plays, aided by a reverse pass as TCU took a 51-37 lead. 

The last thing Baylor needed at that point was a pick-six with its defense struggling, and that's exactly what happened, per SI College Football:

Baylor faced just a one-touchdown deficit entering the fourth, but it had ballooned to a 21-point disadvantage early in the final quarter. Everyone, including Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, had predicted a TCU win at that point:

Petty didn't get the memo.

He rushed the Bears down the field in less than a minute as Devin Chafin ran it in for a touchdown, and exactly four minutes later, he struck again to Goodley for a 28-yard score.

Even after Petty's fifth touchdown of the game, however, Baylor needed one more to tie the game, and he delivered with a beautiful deep pass to Coleman, as Hayes noted:

It had been a shootout through more than 55 minutes of play with the two teams combining for 116 points, but the final 4:42 was a slugfest with both trying to position themselves for a game-winning field goal. After being dominated all game, Baylor's defense forced a big stop and got the ball back to Petty.

That's all he needed to position Baylor for the win, as he led the Bears on a nine-play, 44-yard drive that shaved the time off the clock and set up Callahan for a game-winning field goal.

It looked impossible throughout so much of the game, but Baylor somehow did it. The Bears faced a 21-point hole with a little more than 10 minutes left, but Petty's late heroics were enough to get the victory.

While Baylor's fans were jubilant after the win, the feelings were opposite on the TCU sideline. With no Top 15 teams left on the Horned Frogs' schedule, they were in position to make a big-time statement for a College Football Playoff spot and gave it away.

Some of the Bears' biggest tests lie ahead, with a trip to Oklahoma and games versus Oklahoma State and Kansas State upcoming. But after overcoming the odds on Saturday, no deficit will be too much for Baylor to feel like it can't mount a comeback.

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North Carolina vs. Notre Dame: Game Grades, Analysis for the Fighting Irish

Notre Dame overcame yet another uninspiring offensive performance with three more turnovers to come back and defeat the Tar Heels from North Carolina 50-43.

North Carolina, now 0-12 all-time at Notre Dame, suffered its fourth consecutive loss this season, while the Irish are a perfect 6-0, setting up a massive showdown with Florida State next Saturday in Tallahassee.

In the meantime, we have a fresh report card for the Irish, who needed every single play to get past a feisty UNC squad.

The box score is available at NCAA.com.

 

Pass Offense

Everett Golson again had a middling performance overall, but his 21-of-38 for 300 yards passing was impressive just in time to save things—again.  After going 13-of-23 for 177 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the first half, Golson added two more touchdowns after halftime to lead his team past North Carolina.

William Fuller had seven receptions for 133 yards and two scores, while Tarean Folston added 71 yards on just five receptions with a touchdown.

 

Run Offense

Speaking of Folston, he had an impressive 98 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, but the stats won't tell you about his tenacity and refusal to succumb to anything less than the more sure tackling UNC could throw at him.

As a team, Notre Dame had 219 yards and four touchdowns.  The only thing that keeps us from giving Notre Dame a perfect "A" is the two fumbles lost by Golson.  Still, it was a very nice performance worthy of an A-minus.

 

Pass Defense

Notre Dame has had a reputation of putting together some impressive defensive performances this season.  Coming into Saturday afternoon, the Irish were giving up 12 points per game.  North Carolina's do-it-all quarterback Marquise Williams torched that average by putting up 326 passing yards along with three pass-game touchdowns (two passing, one receiving).

Cole Luke did come up with a critical interception in the fourth quarter that helped secure the Irish victory, and that's certainly worth a little extra credit.  Still, with so many yards and points given up in this game, we can't justify anything more than a C-plus.

 

Run Defense

Williams is not only UNC's best passing quarterback but also the biggest run threat the Tar Heels had on the field against Notre Dame.  On his own, he put up a game-leading 132 rushing yards and managed to find the end zone with his feet once to complement his two passing touchdowns.

Elijah Hood was next in line on the stat sheet, with just 27 yards. Despite the Irish knowing Williams' running abilities, he still ran over them late into the game.  Some horrible tackling technique also led to some bigger-than-they-should-have-been gains from Williams and the Tar Heels.

There's definitely a lot to improve upon before heading to Tallahassee next week, but it wasn't a total loss against Williams and the Tar Heels, who gained a team total of 184 yards with two scores on the ground.

 

Special Teams

With a kicker/punter like Kyle Brindza on your roster, you can rest assured that very little should go wrong with the kicking game.  That was again the case, as Brindza booted most of his kickoffs through the end zone and was a perfect 6-of-6 on extra points.

He also averaged 41.8 yards on his five punts while placing two of them inside the 20-yard line.

Amir Carlisle was the only less-than-perfect part of the special teams game, averaging just 15 yards on his four kick returns.  With those kinds of numbers, touchbacks would be much preferred.

 

Coaching

Yet again, Brian Kelly continues to do anything and everything to find ways to win.

When Notre Dame appeared shell-shocked early by UNC's uptempo offense, Kelly and his staff made some great defensive adjustments, bringing pressure on Williams to disrupt his run-and-shoot style.  The Irish scored three straight touchdowns to take the lead, and despite plenty of momentum shifts, Kelly and company never let the players lose sight of what this game meant.

Every time you thought Notre Dame was losing all of the momentum and the wheels were just about to come off, some smart play-calling settled things down. The coaches did not allow the game to get away from the Irish.

Kelly is emerging as one of the top coaches in college football, and the longer this Notre Dame winning tear continues, the higher his stock will rise.

 

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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Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M: Live Score and Highlights

Ole Miss 21, Texas A&M 0—Late 2nd Quarter

Fresh off an upset of Alabama, the No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels have built an early lead on the No. 14 Texas A&M Aggies in a Southeastern Conference matchup.

ESPN is carrying the SEC West Division clash. Bleacher Report is providing live scoring updates and in-game analysis. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Chattanooga vs. Tennessee: Game Grades and Analysis for the Vols

The Tennessee Volunteers defeated the Chattanooga Mocs 45-10 Saturday, but the final score isn't indicative of a truly dominating performance.

Instead, the win simply highlighted Tennessee's enormous deficiencies on its offensive line, as quarterback Justin Worley was sacked fives times and Nathan Peterman was sacked once.

Positional UnitFirst-Half GradeFinal Grade Pass Offense B+ B Run Offense C- C- Pass Defense B+ A Run Defense B+ B+ Special Teams A B+ Coaching A A

 

Pass Offense

Worley threw for 198 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions.

It's tough to find fault with that, but he did leave big yards on the field when he overthrew a few deep balls on plays where his wide receivers had their defenders beat.

Peterman didn't get a chance to throw many passes Saturday, so the Vols' total yardage through the air suffered a bit. 

 

Run Offense

The Vols rushed for 123 yards on 42 attempts, which equals a dismal 2.9 yards per rush.

Granted, Tennessee's two leading rushers, Marlin Lane and Jalen Hurd, were held out for much of the game, but that number is alarming as Tennessee enters the most important part of its SEC schedule in the coming weeks.

 

Pass Defense

The Mocs were 10-of-17 passing with only 96 yards on offense through the air. Tennessee's secondary has been a strength this year, and that group's excellent play continued in this matchup. 

 

Run Defense

The Mocs ran the ball with the same efficiency as Tennessee, gaining 106 yards on 37 attempts for 2.9 yards per rush.

Tennessee's defensive front is surprisingly stout this year, and with the exception of Todd Gurley, it hasn't allowed many big plays at all on the ground. 

 

Special Teams

Multiple touchbacks on kickoffs, booming punts and a muffed punt recovery and a 68-yard kickoff return made special teams one of the Vols' strongest units Saturday.

Aaron Medley missed a late field goal, but it's hard to blame him when the game is already that far out of hand. 

 

Coaching

The Vols were well-coached in Saturday's game, with only one penalty and great execution on defense and special teams. Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian never abandoned the run, despite its early ineffectiveness, and those reps are valuable moving forward for both the offensive line and the running backs. 

Tennessee's offensive scheme took a lot of criticism last week, but once the offensive line gets the strength and experience to compete in the SEC, it has the potential to be fairly potent.

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Auburn vs. Mississippi State: Score and Twitter Reaction

In a battle of unbeaten SEC juggernauts, Mississippi State and Auburn provided a rather turbulent, turnover-plagued contest that the Bulldogs won 38-23.

It was all Mississippi State early in the game. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage that floated into the waiting arms of Jay Hughes for an interception. Three plays later, quarterback Dak Prescott made the Tigers pay, connecting with De'Runnya Wilson for a 34-yard touchdown.

SEC on CBS tweeted an image of Wilson's big frame dragging a tackler across the goal line for the game's first score:

Soon after, the Bulldogs took advantage of another Auburn error. This time Taveze Calhoun forced a D'haquille Williams fumble that was recovered by Benardrick McKinney deep in Tigers territory. Running back Josh Robinson notched the points off the turnover, plunging forward for a one-yard touchdown run.

MSU Football enthusiastically tweeted about the play:

Following an Auburn punt, Prescott took control of the game again. Utilizing his ability to beat the defense with both his arms and legs, the quarterback moved the offense from its own 29-yard line all the way down to the Auburn 2-yard line. Prescott took it upon himself to run it in for a score.

College GameDay tweeted its thoughts on any defense attempting to stop Mississippi State's signal-caller near the goal line:

After a missed Auburn field goal, the first quarter came to a close with the Bulldogs leading 21-0. The nation's No. 2 team was in quite a bind.

It only took one play into the second quarter for the Tigers to finally get on the board, as Daniel Carlson redeemed himself by connecting on a 21-yard field goal.

Continuing the turnover trend, Prescott returned to the field and quickly had his pass tipped and fall into the arms of Auburn's Jonathan Jones. The ensuing Tigers drive stalled in the red zone again, and they were forced to settle for another Carlson field goal.

It appeared as though Prescott was ready to make amends for the miscue on the following drive. A combination of passes to Wilson and quarterback scampers quickly marched the offense all the way down to the Auburn 5-yard line. Then, disaster struck once more, as an ill-advised throw was intercepted by Jones in the end zone.

SI College Football tweeted the occurrence:

That pick didn't result in any points for the Tigers, but Auburn was given another big chance thanks to a muffed punt by Jamoral Graham that was recovered by Brandon King at the Bulldogs' 22-yard line. Marshall took matters into his own hands, tightening up the game even more with a nine-yard touchdown strike to Williams.

Dan Wolken of USA Today summed up the series of plays perfectly:

Prescott wasn't being considered as a potential Heisman candidate for nothing, and he proved that on the following drive. Completing passes to Malcolm Johnson and Gabe Myles, and carrying up the gut for 26 yards, brought the Bulldogs down to the Auburn 15-yard line. From there, the quarterback burst into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the day.

At that point in the game, ESPN Stats & Info noted how efficient Prescott was on third downs, as he converted two more on that drive:

Soon after, the stadium was pelted by torrential rain. Based on the way the game began, both teams were lucky to enter the half without another turnover.

ESPN College Football tweeted the halftime graphic:

The teams started the third quarter by exchanging punts, and Marshall began the half's third drive from his own 1-yard line.

A defensive pass interference penalty got Auburn out of the shadow of its own goalpost, and Marshall started picking his way down the field with short passes to Sammie Coates. After a 32-yard gain on a pass to Williams, the Tigers were set up nicely deep in Mississippi State territory. After four short runs, Marshall completed a 15-yard touchdown strike to Williams on third down, pulling the Tigers within eight points.

Matt Hinton of Grantland tweeted his thoughts on the drive and score:

We entered the fourth quarter following some fine defensive play from both teams in the waning minutes of the third.

Mississippi State began the final quarter with a splash, as Prescott followed up a 37-yard run from Robinson by methodically moving his offense down the field to the Tigers' 2-yard line. Although, facing a 3rd-and-1, Prescott was stuffed, and the Bulldogs were held to a field goal.

Auburn didn't exactly answer in the way it had hoped, as Ricardo Louis fumbled the ensuring kickoff and Tolando Cleveland jumped on the loose ball. Two plays later, Robinson plunged into the end zone for his second score of the game.

The score was worthy of a celebration, and SEC on CBS captured Robinson's dance moves:

Following the touchdown, Auburn drove again, but the Bulldogs remained stout deep in their own end, forcing a Tigers field goal with just under eight minutes remaining in the game.

Auburn's defense responded soon after, forcing a punt and giving Marshall another chance. A big 28-yard run by Cameron Artis-Payne kicked off the drive, and Marshall led the offense down to the Mississippi State 11-yard line soon after.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, the game continued its turnover trend. Marshall's pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage, and a diving Justin Cox came down with the interception, dashing the hopes of an Auburn comeback.

SportsCenter tweeted the incident:

From there, the Bulldogs ran out the clock. 

Did Mississippi State just prove it is the best team in the country? Bleacher Report's Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss:

It was an unfortunate loss for Auburn. The team surged to No. 2 in the nation after a Week 6 plagued by upsets. Head coach Gus Malzahn commented on his team's performance and praised the Bulldogs after the game, via Brandon Marcello of the Alabama Media Group:

Things will only continue to get tougher for Auburn, as games against Mississippi, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama loom on the horizon. However, Malzahn still thinks very highly of his squad, according to a tweet from Auburn Gold Mine:

If the Tigers can emerge from their remaining schedule unscathed, they could climb back into playoff contention; although, the team will need to show dramatic improvement from what we saw today if that is to happen.

The sky is the limit for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs were one of the most surprising teams earlier in the season, but they have proved time and time again they are for real and can compete with the best in the nation.

In fact, the Bulldogs earned a place in the history books with their win against the Tigers, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

Prescott remains in the Heisman race due to a big win. His interceptions against Auburn hurt slightly, but earning a victory against the nation's No. 2 team will surely hold plenty of clout with voters. Fox College Football tweeted his final stat line:

Head coach Dan Mullen was asked about the team's recent prowess in the SEC. He responded with this short comment, via Eye on College Football:

The Bulldogs aren't a lock for the College Football Playoff just yet with games against Alabama and Mississippi still on the slate; however, Mississippi State showed on Saturday that it's playing at a high enough level to overcome mistakes and emerge victorious against very good teams.

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Dak Prescott vs. Auburn: Stat Line, Heisman Impact and Reaction

Dak Prescott made some mistakes, but the Mississippi State quarterback continued to boost his profile by leading a 38-23 upset over No. 2 Auburn. 

The junior was impressive with both his arm and his legs to help knock off the previously unbeaten Tigers and put his team in the driver's seat in the SEC West. Here is a look at his numbers from the win:

Prescott was already coming off big performances in upset wins over LSU and Texas A&M, becoming a legitimate contender for the coveted Heisman Trophy. Mike Hill of Fox Sports 1 broke down how history is in the quarterback's favor:

The calls for a Heisman were as loud as ever with an incredible start to the game for Mississippi State. The home team got on the board first with a Prescott touchdown pass to De'Runnya Wilson, which was impressive based on the quarterback's ability to stay in the pocket:

By the end of the first quarter, the Bulldogs were up 21-0 over the No. 2 team in the nation. Prescott scored the third touchdown of the game on the ground; stopping him at the goal line has become almost impossible, as ESPN's College GameDay noted:

However, Mississippi State could not pull away thanks to a few mistakes by the star passer:

ESPN's Travis Haney put the pressure on Prescott to respond after a 13-0 run by Auburn:

Fortunately, he did just that by leading a eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended in another rushing touchdown to secure a 28-13 lead by halftime. 

While two interceptions in the first half were disappointing, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports believes he made up for those with the rest of his performance:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee was enjoying the show as well:

ESPN Stats and Info explained that he was at his best when it was most important:

After halftime, the Mississippi State defense picked up the slack and made big plays to limit Auburn to just 10 points. At the same time, the squad forced turnovers to help secure the win.

Prescott did not have too many memorable moments in the second half, but he held onto the ball and moved the chains with his legs to earn the important victory.

Looking forward, Mississippi State will pretty much go as far as Prescott takes it, although his Heisman hopes are dependent on the team. If he can keep winning games in the tough SEC West, he will put up big enough numbers to be a true contender for the prestigious award.

Off-field problems for Jameis Winston and Todd Gurley mixed with losses by Oregon's Marcus Mariota and other top players make this race wide open.

If the Bulldogs can keep up the strong play and reach the College Football Playoff, it will be hard to deny Prescott at least a trip to New York City. 

 

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

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UNC vs. Notre Dame: Score and Twitter Reaction

A week before a showdown with the No. 1 team in the nation, Everett Golson and the No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish narrowly avoided a letdown in a 50-43 win over North Carolina as turnovers once again plagued Brian Kelly's team.

SportsCenter noted the historical implications of the show put on by Golson and the offense:

After late-game heroics to remain undefeated last week, Golson finished Saturday with a pair of costly fumbles and an interception but redeemed himself in the final frame with a go-ahead touchdown to finish 21-of-38 for 300 yards and three scores. He also registered 71 yards on 12 carries, second only to Tarean Folston's 18 carries for 98 yards and a pair of scores.

That ground game led by Folston bailed out Golson repeatedly, gaining 223 yards and four scores on 41 carries (5.4 per-carry average). The star of the shootout, though, was sophomore wideout William Fuller, who brought in seven catches for 133 yards and two scores.

North Carolina got a superhuman effort from junior quarterback Marquise Williams, who scored as a passer, rusher and receiver Saturday. His 303 yards and two touchdowns through the air kept the Tar Heels in it, while his 132 yards on 18 carries and a score led the team in rushing (and made him the first to eclipse 100 yards against the Notre Dame defense all season). His 23-yard touchdown reception put his team ahead late in the third quarter.

Langston Wertz Jr. of the Charlotte Observer summed up the epic performance from Williams nicely:

The turnover issues that have plagued Golson as of late showed up again early Saturday, as he was hit and lost the football on the Fighting Irish's very first drive.

That put his team in an early 7-0 hole after Tar Heels freshman tailback Elijah Hood found paydirt from six yards away. On the very next drive, Golson put his team down two scores by stepping up into a clean pocket and hitting North Carolina linebacker Jeff Schoettmer in the chest, who took it back for a touchdown.

Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com put it best:

Eventually, Golson was able to calm down. He hit Fuller with their first of two touchdown connections on the day, and then the staff elected to lean on the ground game for production—which resulted in three first-half touchdowns and more than 100 yards.

Even Kelly had admitted prior to the contest that the rushing attack was more of a way to set up the pass this season, as captured by Lou Somogyi of 247Sports.com:

We feel very comfortable where what we’re able to do from an offensive standpoint with our run game. We’re not a run-first, smash mouth, we’re-going-to-run-the-ball-down-your-throat [team]. We definitely use it to set up our play-action passes. I think we’ve been very effective with our play-action down the field. I don’t look at it saying it’s a weakness of our offense.

Directly after the Fighting Irish came out of the tunnel up just 28-26 to start the second half, it was clear Kelly was committed to the ground-and-pound approach with a sporadic dash of deep passes to keep the Tar Heels defense honest. 

That approach would lead to the second Golson-Fueller touchdown connection of the day, this time from 35 yards away, but the vibe of the 35-26 contest took a dramatic turn late in the third quarter. 

Again, it was turnovers. Golson lost his second fumble of the game after a North Carolina field goal brought it to 35-29. One trick play later saw wideout Quinshad Davis hit his quarterback for the score to give the Tar Heels a one-point advantage.

For Golson, not only was the season in jeopardy but his pursuit of individual accolades took a hit, too, as Bryan Fischer of NFL.com pointed out:

The talent discrepancy eventually began to rear its head as the final frame progressed, though, as Williams gunned a late interception and Golson capitalized on poor coverage to toss his third score of the day to put the Fighting Irish ahead for good.

Already up 43-36, Notre Dame got the ball back after a few miscues from the opposition, and Folston punched in his second touchdown of the day to finalize the score, although the final tally does not do the entirety of the hotly contested encounter justice.

Up next for the Tar Heels after the crushing loss is another stiff test, this time against the previously ranked No. 22 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who now rest at 5-1 after Saturday's 31-25 loss to Duke.

Notre Dame has even bigger plans, though. It would not be outlandish to suggest that Golson and his teammates overlooked the Tar Heels a tad—understandable with a date against No. 1 Florida State on the docket next.

The showdown is arguably the biggest of any this season, although many, such as Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News, feel that Notre Dame's performance Saturday suggests troubles are ahead for Golson and Co.:

Given the College Football Playoff implications on the line in Tallahassee, Kelly's up-and-down team will receive its biggest test to date, but the same can be said for Jameis Winston and the Seminoles if turnover issues get cleaned up in the week of preparation.

North Carolina vs. Notre Dame was just an appetizer.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun Delivers 2nd Monster Suplex of the Season

The Michigan State Spartans got a 45-31 win on Saturday over the Purdue Boilermakers, and this tackle might have summed up the game.

In the third quarter, Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun suplexed a Purdue running back. The hit was huge, but it was actually Calhoun's second suplex of the season.

The first suplex came back in September when he threw down Eastern Michigan quarterback Rob Bolden.

[VineFor the Win]

 

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Washington's Shaq Thompson Returns Fumble 99 Yards for TD vs. Cal

Washington Huskies running back/linebacker Shaq Thompson continues to find the end zone, making another huge play on Saturday.

In the first quarter against the California Golden Bears, Thompson returned Cal quarterback Jared Goff's fumble near the end zone 99 yards for a touchdown, giving the Huskies an early 7-0 lead.

Thompson now has an incredible four defensive touchdowns this season, as well as a rushing touchdown on offense.

[NFL.com]

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Is Marcus Mariota Back in Heisman Race After Huge Win?

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota had a disappointing performance in a loss against Arizona last week, but he silenced most of his critics with a fantastic game vs. UCLA in Week 7.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer discusses whether he has propelled himself back into Heisman contention. 

Is Marcus Mariota the Heisman favorite?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Marcus Mariota vs. UCLA: Stats, Heisman Impact and Twitter Reaction

Coming off an ugly loss last week at home, Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota had work to do on Saturday at UCLA to keep his team in the College Football Playoff race and his own Heisman hopes alive. The junior more than held his own in hostile territory in the team's best performance of the season. 

The Ducks were brilliant early, building up a huge lead. Their defense came to play against Brett Hundley, who was held under 100 yards passing until the fourth quarter. Mariota led the offense with four touchdowns in the first 36 minutes of play.

The 42-30 final score isn't indicative of how lopsided this game was. Oregon was up 42-10 early in the first quarter, and then the defense was basically in prevent mode the rest of the way. 

Since Oregon jumped out to such a big lead early, Mariota didn't have to do much through the air. He was efficient passing the ball, but he really stood out on the ground. We have full analysis of his day coming up after a look at his stats:

After last week's loss against an undefeated Arizona, Mariota was quick to point out what that says about the depth in the Pac-12. Here's what he told reporters, via The Associated Press (via ESPN): "They're undefeated. It's obviously a testament to our conference. If you're not prepared each week, if you're not ready to play, you'll lose."

It's safe to say Mariota and the Ducks were more than prepared to handle their business against 18th-ranked UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Dan Greenspan of Scout.com summed up Mariota's effort in the best and most succinct way possible:

Here's how well things went for Mariota and the Ducks on Saturday: Mariota fumbled the ball on a read-option, picked it up and ran for a 23-yard touchdown that put Oregon up 28-10 in the third quarter. 

Chantel Jennings of ESPN also pointed out that Oregon's offense was going so well that an offensive lineman was able to catch a pass on a deflection that would normally be intercepted:

Even though this hasn't been a banner start to the season for Oregon prior to Saturday, thanks in large part to a patchwork offensive line, Paul Myerberg of USA Today did note that Mariota has never lost his ability to find the end zone through the air:

Another great stat in Mariota's favor is he still hasn't thrown an interception in 155 pass attempts through six games this season. 

Spinning Mariota's performance forward, this will help his Heisman chances. UCLA may not be as good as we expected coming into the year, but there's a lot to be said for winning on the road against a ranked team and accounting for four touchdowns. 

Even though Oregon's loss against Arizona did shine a light on Mariota, the Heisman pundits never really wavered in their support.

According to the latest ESPN Heisman Watch poll published on October 6, Oregon's quarterback was third behind Georgia running back Todd Gurley and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. Gurley's position on the list is guaranteed to drop because of his suspension for an alleged violation of NCAA rules

Prescott has been ascending all season, particularly after last week's win against Texas A&M. He had another marquee game against Auburn on Saturday but threw two interceptions on back-to-back drives in the second quarter, which could knock him down the ranks. 

ESPN's Joe Tessitore offered his Heisman ballot on Thursday's SportsCenter. It had the same top three as the Heisman Watch poll:

Mariota was always fighting an uphill battle to win the Heisman. He's cursed with the burden of knowledge. Everyone in college football knows who he is, so it's not good enough to merely play up to expectations; he has to exceed them. 

The Heisman is as much a narrative award as it is a measurement of what have you done on the field. Prescott will likely be the new favorite this week because he's played well for an undefeated team that no one was talking about before the season. 

It was impossible for Mariota to be under the radar. Oregon started the year ranked third in the AP Top 25 and moved up to second in Week 3, and he has been touted as a potential No. 1 draft pick. You need to have a historic season to win the Heisman with that much publicity around you. 

Ian O'Connor of ESPN New York even tweeted that he wouldn't mind seeing the Jets play so bad this season that Mariota ends up wearing green again next year:

Don't despair yet, Oregon fans. Mariota still has a chance to move into the top spot with a game against Stanford's ferocious defense on tap for November 1. He's never defeated the Cardinal as a starting quarterback, so that will be his statement game of the year for voters. 

The Ducks got back to their winning ways, while Mariota accounted for four of the team's six touchdowns. This win couldn't have been scripted better by anyone associated with Oregon's football program. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter

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Oregon vs. UCLA: Score and Twitter Reaction

Perhaps the rumblings of Oregon's demise were a little exaggerated.

The No. 12 Ducks bounced back from last week's near-crippling home loss against Arizona in impressive fashion Saturday, going into the Rose Bowl and laying a 42-30 thumping on No. 18 UCLA, beating the Bruins for the sixth straight time.

"Every loss is a test of our character to see how we respond," Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu told reporters before the game, via ESPN.com.

Well, Mark Helfrich's team clearly isn't lacking character. Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota threw for 210 yards and two touchdowns, added another 75 and two scores on the ground, and the Ducks led by as many as 32 before a late fourth-quarter surge from UCLA narrowed the final margin.

As The National Football Post's Dave Miller noted, it was a performance that quickly quieted Oregon's critics:

Perhaps more importantly than the statistical output or margin of victory, Mariota's offensive line kept him upright. Oregon's big boys in the trenches have received seemingly endless criticism this season—especially after an unsatisfactory performance against the Wildcats—but they allowed zero sacks and opened up cavernous lanes for Royce Freeman (18 carries, 121 yards, two touchdown) and Thomas Tyner (13 carries, 58 yards) to stroll through.

Scout.com's Josh Webb noted the difference in Oregon's speedy offense when the linemen are playing well:

There was no receiving touchdown this week, but Mariota scored in a variety of ways—and made it look easy.

In the first quarter, he kept the ball himself on an option and outraced UCLA's defenders to the outside for a 13-yard score. NFL.com's Bryan Fischer applauded the dual threat:

After opening up the Ducks' lead with a pair of passing touchdowns—a 21-yard screen pass to Tyner and a perfect throw down the sideline to Pharaoh Brown for 31—Mariota began the second half with another running score.

His gaudy athleticism was especially on display in the latter, as he picked up his own fumble and still managed to explode through UCLA's defense. The Pac-12 Networks Twitter feed provided a look at the unique touchdown:

On the other side of the football, UCLA was similarly dominant on the ground. Paul Perkins ran 21 times for 187 yards, while Brett Hundley ran for 89 and a touchdown of his own. But Hundley struggled to move the ball through the air for most of the game and made a pair of critical mistakes.

The first, a fumble on which he failed to recognize pressure, and the second, an interception by Ekpre-Olomu on a poorly thrown ball.

Not only did those turnovers dig the Bruins into an insurmountable hole, setting up Oregon for two touchdown drives under 15 yards, but they seriously bruised Hundley's NFL draft stock, as CBS Sports' Dane Brugler and former NFL scout John Middlekauff noted:

UCLA exploded for 20 fourth-quarter points as things finally started to click for Hundley and the passing game, but it was too little and too late.

The loss puts the Bruins at 1-2 in the conference and ahead of only Colorado in the Pac-12 South. Jim Mora's team will try to right the ship next week at California, but preseason expectations of a conference championship have all but disappeared.

For the Ducks, they remain in the thick of the hunt in the North, and more importantly they control their own fate: After hosting Washington next week, they have meetings with division leaders California and Stanford.

There are bigger goals in Eugene, though, and judging by Saturday's performance on the road, it's far too early to remove them from the College Football Playoff picture.

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Penn State vs. Michigan: Live Score and Highlights

Michigan 7, Penn State 3 (Early 1st Quarter)

Devin to Devin.

Forty-three yards. Touchdown. Michigan.  

Michigan (2-4) is looking for its first Big Ten win, while Penn State (4-1) is looking to turn out the lights in Ann Arbor. 

Keep your browser locked to this live blog for the latest updates, analysis and commentary. 

 

New Duds

Here's a look at the "UTL" fashion.

Little different than the MDen pic RT @darrenrovell: Up close of Michigan jersey for October 11 game vs Penn State pic.twitter.com/xrBAAa56yW

— Joshua Henschke (@JoshuaHenschke) August 9, 2014

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

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Florida State Cruises Past Syracuse, but How Ready Are 'Noles for Notre Dame?

Through six games, Florida State doesn't exactly look 2013 good. With so many of the stars of last year's national championship team gone, it's unfair to compare the two teams.

But after a 38-20 win over Syracuse on Saturday, a game in which No. 1 FSU moved the ball at will and often stopped the Orange in the red zone, the Seminoles are finding their rhythm.

Coming off a shaky defensive showing at N.C. State and some offensive struggles against Wake Forest, FSU put together its best effort going into a Top 10 showdown with Notre Dame next Saturday in Tallahassee, Florida.

Subtract two starters on offense, center Austin Barron and tailback Karlos Williams, and FSU still found ways to score at will. FSU put points on the board on five of its first seven drives and ran for 165 yards.

Jameis Winston turned in one of his best games, completing 30 of 36 passes for 317 yards and three touchdowns. Winston surpassed 275 passing yards for the fourth time in five games.

FSU won its 22nd straight game and became bowl-eligible for a 33rd straight season. But now the Seminoles turn their attention to Notre Dame.

 

FSU's offense finding success

For all the criticisms of FSU's offensive line and of how Winston has performed a year after winning the Heisman Trophy, here are some numbers to chew on.

Florida State has scored 37, 23, 56, 43 and 38 points against its five Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. That's an average of 39.4 points.

After struggles on the ground in its first two games against FBS teams, FSU has run the ball well. The Seminoles had 166 yards against N.C. State, 171 yards versus Wake Forest and 165 yards at Syracuse. 

And Winston? He has thrown for 1,605 yards and 11 touchdowns in five games, an average of 321 passing yards. While completing 70 percent of his passes, better than the 66.9 percent from his Heisman season.

How does that translate versus Notre Dame? Quite well for FSU.

The Fighting Irish are very good against the run, putting together one of the nation's top 15 rush defenses (95 yards per game allowed going into the UNC game on Saturday). But Notre Dame is just 46th nationally in passing yards allowed, giving up 220 yards per game. Notre Dame has played a majority of its games against teams that succeed against the run (like Rice and Stanford), while FSU has leaned more toward Winston and the passing game while the rushing game developed.

FSU's balanced attack should give Notre Dame plenty of problems on defense.

 

FSU's defense strong in red zone

Florida State bent on defense in the first half against Syracuse but was at its best in the red zone. Syracuse managed just two field goals in four drives that went inside the 20, with safety Jalen Ramsey coming up with an interception and FSU stopping the Orange on downs with about two minutes to go before halftime.

A game that easily could have been very close was instead 24-6 FSU at the half. This is where FSU's defense is superb: The Seminoles will let a team drive but then find a way to hold opponents to a field goal—or force a turnover—inside the 20.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher makes sure that the Seminoles are situationally sound, and they are one of the top 20 teams in the FBS in red-zone efficiency. Notre Dame has scored on 19 of 22 trips into the red zone going into the UNC game.

One thing that works in FSU's favor is Notre Dame's struggling ground attack (78th nationally). Quarterback Everett Golson is good enough to beat FSU with his arm and his legs, but Notre Dame is too one-dimensional on offense.

Of course, you probably could have guessed which way Holtz was leaning.

Notre Dame at FSU is shaping up to be one of the best games of the season. Give FSU the early edge because of its balance on offense and ability to force turnovers on defense.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report; all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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UCLA's Jim Mora Calms DC by Caressing His Beard After Sideline Shouting Match

The UCLA Bruins were struggling early against the Oregon Ducks, and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was not happy with his team's play.

In order to try and calm his coordinator down, head coach Jim Mora Jr. caressed Ulbrich's beard.

It might seem weird, but the two know each other quite well since Ulbrich was a linebacker back when Mora was the defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers.

[Twitter, SB Nation]

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