NCAA Football News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Florida Proves It Is Nowhere Close to Being Ready for Alabama

When fans examined Florida’s SEC schedule before the season, one game stood out: a Sept. 20 trip to Alabama.

The Gators’ second league game would be a litmus test of the revamped offense under Kurt Roper, of Jeff Driskel’s fitness as a first-tier SEC quarterback.

Well, we got those answers, only a week early.

Saturday’s 36-30 triple-overtime win over Kentucky showed the new Gators are much like the old Gators, and they aren’t ready for prime time.

One of the SEC’s worst teams pushed Florida hard at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Kentucky hasn’t won an SEC game since 2012, but the Wildcats were a 4th-and-9 in overtime away from pulling off a stunning upset before Driskel found receiver Demarcus Robinson in the left corner of the end zone for a game-tying score that sent the game to a second overtime.

Tailback Matt Jones finally finished off the Wildcats with a one-yard touchdown run in the third overtime.

Kentucky’s defense was one of the SEC’s worst a year ago, allowing 31.2 points and 427.2 yards per game. But Florida managed only 20 points in regulation, didn’t score a touchdown until late in the third quarter and went 5-of-17 on third-down conversions.

Robinson was a revelation, catching 15 passes for 216 yards and two scores. Driskel threw for 295 yards and three scores with an interception, but an offense that rolled up 65 points against Eastern Michigan didn’t look efficient.

Florida coach Will Muschamp didn’t seem pleased afterward, criticizing the big plays his defense gave up to SEC Network’s Maria Taylor.

Our kids fought through a lot of adversity in the game. We put up over 600 yards of offense, we’ve got to convert in the red zone, got to convert on third down early in the game to create some separation and we didn’t.

And now, these Gators must go to Tuscaloosa for a meeting with No. 3 Alabama and Kirby Smart’s defense. If they have trouble scoring on Kentucky, it’s not difficult to imagine what the Crimson Tide will do to them.

Following a 4-8 season, Muschamp faces intense pressure this fall to win big and keep his job. If efforts like Saturday are what Florida has in store, it’s difficult to project the Gators even reaching a bowl game.

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Kenny Hill vs. Rice: Stats, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

Texas A&M football is clearly in good hands with quarterback Kenny Hill, who continued his assault on collegiate secondaries in Week 3 against Rice University.

Aggie football fans won't soon forget about Johnny Manziel, but they won't have to look to the past for a scintillating, successful offense. Hill made a number of great plays with his arm against Rice. 

ESPN College Football highlighted his 48-yard touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds in the second quarter:

Hill isn't just tearing up opposing defensive coordinator's game plans. He's also rewriting the Aggies' record book, as Suzanne Halliburton of the Austin American Statesman pointed out:

By the end of the third quarter, Hill had completed 19 of 29 passes for 297 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

As if throwing the ball downfield with precision and pace wasn't enough, Hill threw in a stellar 39-yard run during the evening for good measure. This fan noted Hill couldn't help but pay homage to Manziel and do the money sign after his long run:

Hill eventually finished the game with exactly 300 yards passing after taking a well-deserved break for the majority of the fourth quarter. He has yet to throw an interception on the season, proving that he is a fine fit for head coach Kevin Sumlin's sumptuous offensive system. Aggie Sports gave an updated on his total stats through just three games, and they are indeed worthy of just about any superlative one can throw his way:

If Hill strings together a few more immaculate performances in an always-tough SEC, he could very well be hoisting the Heisman Trophy at season's end.

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

It was not an easy game by any means, but No. 11 Notre Dame was able to defeat Purdue 30-14 in the Shamrock Series, which was played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The final box score can be found on NCAA.com.  

Purdue gave everything it had in the first half, but the Fighting Irish picked up the tempo in the second half and the Boilermakers could not keep up. Head coach Brian Kelly will be the first person to tell you that they did not play a perfect game, but at the end of the day, the Irish won and have a chance to crack the Top 10 in the polls. Here’s a report card of their performance against Purdue.

 

Pass Offense: Everett Golson was efficient in the first half, and he stayed that way in the second half. He finished the day 25-of-40 with 259 yards and two touchdowns. Golson started the game 6-of-6 and never looked back. He did get sacked four times, but because he can stand tall in the pocket and throw on the run, Golson kept his eyes downfield and was able to come up with some big pass plays to Corey Robinson and William Fuller throughout the entire game.

 

Run Offense: The Irish racked up 139 yards on the ground, which was more than enough to take down Purdue. Golson led the way with 56 yards while Cam McDaniel had 32 yards with nine carries. The Irish did not run over the Boilermakers, and part of the reason for that was the offensive line. However, because they were able to move the ball with the air, they needed to run the ball to keep the Boilermakers modest on defense.

 

Pass Defense: It was a tale of two halves for the Irish defense. After surrendering two touchdown passes to Danny Etling in the first half, the Irish put more pressure on him in the second half, which led to him throwing zero touchdowns and two picks. Brian VanGorder did a great job making adjustments in the second half to get his players in the right position to make plays. However, they can’t start off slow with the remaining games on the schedule if the Irish want to be in the college football playoff.

 

Run Defense: The Boilermakers could never get anything going in the ground game because the front seven got after it. Akeem Hunt did have 32 yards on five carries, but he did fumble near the end zone in the second quarter. Led by Romeo Okwara and Jaylen Smith, the Irish front seven dominated the offensive line for Purdue and the running game was a non-factor—especially in the second half.

 

Special Teams: Kyle Brindza was almost perfect in the kicking game, making three of his four field goals and racking up 12 of the Irish’s 30 points. Amir Carlisle had a 47-yard kick return to start the game and the coverage teams never let Purdue gain any momentum. It won’t be talked about a lot, but the special teams played a huge part in Notre Dame’s win. They made plays when they needed to, and they did not make any costly mistakes.

 

Coaching: Head coach Brian Kelly knew that his team was going to be in a battle because Purdue always plays tough against Notre Dame. He did a good job keeping his players calm while staying aggressive, even when Purdue took the lead late in the first half. Kelly and his staff made the right adjustments in the second half and the Boilermakers had no response. The head man has a good group of players, and he has gotten the most out of them so far this season.

 

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Tennessee vs. Oklahoma: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Tennessee Volunteers made a game of it early, but just couldn't keep up with the Oklahoma Sooners. Looking every bit like the nation's No. 4 team, the Sooners featured a mix of a dominating defensive line and a balanced offensive attack, running away with the game in the end and emerging victorious by a score of 34-10.

It was all Oklahoma in the first quarter. Trevor Knight led the Sooners to the red zone in three consecutive drives, resulting in two field goals and one touchdown. While Oklahoma couldn't find much of a ground game early on, Knight made use of running back Keith Ford in a different way, connecting with him in the flat on busted coverage for the game's first touchdown.

Here's a look at the 23-yard catch and run, via ESPN College Football:

Things began to look bleak for the Volunteers, as they entered the second quarter down 13-0 against the No. 4 team in the nation. However, quarterback Justin Worley had a different idea. Under constant pressure from Oklahoma's dominant defensive line, Worley remained calm, moving the sticks on a 3rd-and-11 and 3rd-and-12 en route to a 40-yard touchdown strike to Josh Smith.

Take a glance at the quarterback stepping away from pressure and delivering a perfect pass to get behind the secondary, via College GameDay:

Finding themselves up 13-7, the Sooners struck again before the half. Knight kicked off the drive with a big 32-yard gain to the shifty Sterling Shepard. Once the team found itself inside the 20-yard line, Ford finally found some running room. After a nine-yard scamper, he capped off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run.

Eye on College Football kept up with the game's action:

Oklahoma attempted another scoring drive before the half, and just as it was creeping into field-goal range, Knight was picked off after his pass was deflected, and the Sooners went into the break up 20-7.

The big difference in the game at halftime was Oklahoma's dominance in the trenches. Its defensive line was taking advantage of Tennessee's young offensive line, pressuring Worley early and often while holding the Volunteers' ground game to negative-11 yards on 15 carries.

Jake Trotter of ESPN.com gave his take on the Sooners' pass rush:

Oklahoma received the kick to begin the second half—the team didn't take long to increase its lead. Knight flashed his versatile skill set early in the third quarter, completing three passes for 63 yards and capping off the 75-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run of his own.

Fox 4 Sports tweeted its take on the game following the score:

The game was quickly getting out of hand with Oklahoma now owning a 20-point lead.

Oklahoma Football summed up how Worley's third quarter went with this tweet:

One of the biggest factors in the Sooners' devastating pass rush was Eric Striker. Quick off the edge, he used his speed to find his way into the backfield on many occasions. Not only did he make plays, but he set up his teammates as well. 

Oklahoma assistant athletics director Pete Moris tweeted a throwback comment regarding Striker's performance:

Thanks to an error on special teams by the Sooners, Tennessee was able to get into great field position which resulted in a field goal, decreasing Oklahoma's lead to 17 entering the final quarter.

Things only worsened for Worley and the Tennesee offense in the fourth. The quarterback's second interception of the game was returned 100 yards for a touchdown by Julian Wilson for the game's final score.

Here's a look at the touchdown, courtesy of College GameDay:

Knight completed 20 of his 33 attempts for 308 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Sooners, while the offense remained balanced, totaling 34 carries for 146 yards and two scores. 

Oklahoma's pass rush took its toll on Worley, as he finished the game completing 21 of his 44 attempts for 201 yards, one touchdown and two picks. Tennessee's running game found a bit of a groove in the second half, ending the game with 33 carries for 112 yards.

The Volunteers have a well-timed bye in Week 4. The team will have two weeks to regroup before attempting to right the ship against Georgia. While that will be a difficult task, it certainly isn't out of the question, as the Bulldogs proved they are beatable on Sunday, losing to South Carolina by a score of 38-35.

Oklahoma's bid to earn a trip to the first-ever College Football Playoff is alive and well. In the new system, the nation's top-four teams are elected by voters, and the Sooners certainly look the part. The team will move on to face West Virginia in Week 4.

The Mountaineers survived a shootout with Maryland on Saturday and moved to 2-1 on the season, with their lone loss coming in Week 1 against Alabama. Should the Sooners keep up the pace they set against Tennessee in Week 3, West Virginia will be hard pressed to earn its third win against Bob Stoops and Co.

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USC vs. Boston College: How Trojans' Loss Will Shake Up Week 4 Rankings

It was a Week 3 of upsets across the college football slate, with a handful of Top 25 teams who recently impressed going down throughout Saturday afternoon. USC apparently didn't get the memo.

The ninth-ranked Trojans, with a target fixed on their backs after upsetting Stanford last weekend, traveled to face Boston College on Saturday and fell in a 37-31 affair. Quarterback Tyler Murphy scampered for 191 rushing yards, including a 66-yard score that put the game out of reach late. 

It was just about as strong of a start as Steve Sarkisian could ask for, with the Trojans taking a 10-0 lead through one quarter and a 17-6 advantage early in the second.

From then on, USC just flat out got outplayed.

Jon Hilliman capped off a 75-yard drive with his three-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to four, and soon after the wheels fell off for USC. The Eagles got the ball just before the half, and Sherman Alston broke free for a 54-yard touchdown.

With the Eagles' emergence came an offensive slump for the Trojans, who went scoreless from the first minutes of the second quarter until 4:32 was left in the final frame. 

In that span, Boston College upped its lead to 10 midway through the third on another Hilliman touchdown run. A field goal made it a 30-17 lead in the fourth quarter.

Cody Kessler—who posted a strong stat line of 317 yards and four touchdowns with no picks—led the Trojans on two different touchdown drives late to cut the deficit to six both times, but Kessler would never get the ball with a chance to take the lead.

That was thanks to Boston College's Murphy, who scampered for his first touchdown on a 66-yard run to put the game out of reach. His rushing dominance helped set the tone for a huge advantage on the ground, as ESPN's Ivan Maisel noted the massive rushing gap:

Needless to say, it's far from the result USC wanted coming off one of the program's biggest victories over the past few years.

The Trojans' early-season upset on the road over Stanford last weekend set the stage for them to be top-flight contenders in the Pac-12. While this isn't a conference loss and won't impact their standings, it all but squashes the chance for a College Football Playoff spot barring a slew of unlikely events.

It was just the continuance of an odd Saturday, with No. 6 Georgia, No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 21 Louisville also falling, per Fox Sports' Clay Travis:

The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre wondered how many teams can still make a title run with USC biting the dust Saturday:

247Sports' JC Shurburtt turned the focus on the impressive Eagles:

USC got some respect in the Top 25 early on this season, and it got much, much more after proving itself against the Cardinal. But now, the Trojans have a significant mark on their resume after a poor nonconference loss to a team without a single Top 25 vote.

The loss won't be enough to completely squash USC's hopes in the Top 25, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Sarkisian's squad fall somewhere in the No. 15 or 16 range after failing to keep up their momentum from the Stanford victory.

As for Boston College, it's hard to imagine this victory—as impressive as it was—getting the school into the Top 25. It's just nearly impossible to go from no votes to a spot, but there's no doubt the Eagles will be getting plenty of votes and start to position themselves to be ranked if they keep it up in ACC play.

 

Follow Steven Cook on Twitter for more breaking news and analysis on college football and all sports.

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Despite Shutouts, Jury Still out on LSU Tigers Defense

LSU's defense has proven it can dominate inferior opponents. 

The Tigers defeated UL-Monroe 31-0 on Saturday night, earning their second straight shutout. The Warhawks gathered only 93 yards of total offense and six first downs. 

Since trailing Wisconsin 24-7 in the third quarter of the season opener, there has been no better defense statistically in college football than LSU's. Defensive coordinator John Chavis has proven why he is one of the best in the business. 

But let's be real. The Tigers have not played anybody.

Wisconsin's running game has been the only meaningful opposition the Tigers have faced. The Badgers accumulated an impressive 268 yards on the ground, averaging just under seven yards a carry. Outside of that, the Wisconsin passing attack, Sam Houston State and UL-Monroe equates to cupcake competition.

The SEC is loaded offensively, especially in the West. The Tigers will get their first real test when Mississippi State comes to Baton Rouge next week.

Bulldogs Quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown for nine touchdowns and at least 200 yards in every game. Prescott has also rushed for 273 yards and two touchdowns.

Prescott and running back Josh Robinson are both powerful runners who are averaging more than six yards per carry. The Louisiana natives first real test will be LSU, so expect them, behind a talented offensive line, to run with a vengeance.

LSU's rush defense must be prepared for the challenge. Quentin Thomas, Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux have gotten the majority of the snaps at defensive tackle. They, along with middle linebacker D.J. Welter, will face a barrage of carries up the middle. 

Mississippi State has one of the weaker receiver corps in the SEC. LSU's secondary, which has had a magnificent start to the season, should be up for the task. 

The Tigers will have a raucous Death Valley to their advantage. If they stop Prescott and the creative offensive game plan of head coach Dan Mullen, then the defense can truly be judged.   

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower  

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USC vs. Boston College: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Boston College Eagles executed an exceptional game plan, fought off an early deficit and held off a late comeback push against the No. 9 USC Trojans on Saturday evening at Alumni Stadium.

Led by senior quarterback Tyler Murphy, Boston College manhandled USC, pounded the rock for 452 rushing yards and shut down the Trojans on the ground in a 37-31 upset victory in Chestnut Hill.

Adam Maya of Rivals.com brought context to the magnitude of Saturday's upset:

USCFootball.com's Ryan Abraham captured the scene that unfolded after the game, when fans rushed the field to enjoy the landmark win:

As the Trojans threatened to mount a comeback following star receiver Nelson Agholor's 10-yard touchdown reception from Cody Kessler with four minutes and 32 seconds remaining, Murphy carried out a convincing read-option fake and dashed 66 yards for the decisive score.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted an interesting counter to Maya's prior anecdote:

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated was perplexed as to how Murphy rose to the occasion following last week's home loss to Pittsburgh:

Murphy was the Eagles' catalyst, amassing 191 yards on 13 carries. Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News was reminded of a former Heisman Trophy winner in witnessing Murphy's performance:

Kessler hit Darreus Rogers for a 14-yard TD strike on the possession after Murphy's big run, but BC recovered the onside kick and got two first-down runs from freshman Jon Hilliman. That ended any lingering suspense.

The way the game began, it looked like business as usual for the Trojans, who appeared to be en route to another quality win amid an immediate renaissance under new coach Steve Sarkisian.

The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan summarized how many believed things would eventually play out:

BC had three consecutive three-and-outs to start. On the second of those brief drives, USC took over at its opponent's 38-yard line. Kessler drove the team to the end zone in six plays, hitting George Farmer on an eight-yard touchdown throw.

It was a milestone score for Farmer:

A 52-yard field goal by Andre Heidari put the Trojans up 10-0. Even when the Eagles responded with a TD on a crisp seven-play, 78-yard drive, a missed extra point only cut the deficit to four points.

One of the most explosive scoring plays of the game came on a 51-yard connection from Kessler to running back Javorius Allen, who took a screen pass all the way to the house. That was just three plays from scrimmage after BC had scored its first points.

Murphy discussed the primary objectives his team set out to achieve before Saturday's showdown, per The Boston Globe's Michael Vega:

We have to really get the running game going, keep their offense off the field and keep their defense on the field. They are pretty low on numbers on defense, so we have to try to take advantage of that and keep them on the field as long as possible.

They have a very explosive offense that can run our defense out, and the more they get on the field, the better rhythm they get into, and the more dangerous they can be. So, we really have to focus on moving the chains, getting the first downs, running the ball and letting the clock tick.

Part of what allowed the BC rushing attack to be so effective was the way Murphy drew the defense in. It was evident on his final carry, but Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated made a keen observation about Murphy's read-option skills before then:

After the Trojans' lead swelled to 11, the Eagles began to assert their will and pummel their heavily favored foes up front.

A three-yard TD scamper by Hilliman preceded a breakout 54-yard romp to paydirt from diminutive freshman receiver Sherman Alston just 1:27 before halftime. Alston took the ball on an end-around and was untouched until he got inside the 5, barely stretching across the goal line at the end.

Riding that momentum into the locker room, the BC defense played inspired football, and Hilliman punched in from one yard out in the third quarter giving the Eagles a 27-17 lead.

USC had averaged 279.5 yards passing and 216.5 yards on the ground through its first two games. That balance was nonexistent in this one. Kessler was under pressure often, with the Eagles pinning their ears back and capitalizing on obvious passing situations.

But Kessler remained calm and put his Trojans in a position to get back into it in the fourth. Despite the Trojans having just 20 yards on 29 carries, Kessler was 31-of-41 passing for 317 yards and four scores.

The defense simply couldn't stop Murphy and Co.

Although BC didn't dominate time of possession (31:43), it ran the ball exceptionally to prevent USC from getting into an offensive rhythm in the middle portion of the game. Murphy helped a lot in that regard. Just 5-of-13 passing for 54 yards and an interception, the dual-threat signal-caller destroyed the Trojans with his legs.

Coming off a momentous win over Stanford, it appeared USC was shocked to see the Eagles get off the mat after trailing early. The Trojans couldn't recover, and now will fall out of the Top 10.

Sarkisian will have a bye week to motivate his players and help them prepare for a Pac-12 clash against Oregon State.

Meanwhile, for BC coach Steve Addazio this is an epic triumph. Under certain circumstances, the Eagles could be in danger of suffering a letdown of their own. However, they will host Maine next, and it's unlikely they'll slip enough to lose to a 1-1 adversary from the FCS.

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UCLA vs. Texas: Score and Twitter Reaction

Come Pac-12 play, UCLA is certainly going to have some experience dealing with adversity. 

The Bruins offense struggled in a Week 1 win against Virginia. Their defense struggled in a win against Memphis. On Saturday night against Texas, they lost star quarterback Brett Hundley to an elbow injury for most of the game but still found a way to scrape out a 20-17 win with Jerry Neuheisel thriving under center. 

As Fox Sports' Miguel A. Melendez noted, it was a doubly good night for UCLA:

Prior to game, head coach Jim Mora, via The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), talked about the importance for the Bruins to right the ship after an unconvincing start to the season:

We can't wait to get things fixed. We have to fix things now. ... (Older) guys like us, we understand how fast life goes, and I don't think these guys always understand it, so it's a matter of making them understand it's important right now.

That became decidedly more difficult when Hundley suffered his injury in the first quarter on an 11-yard scramble. He was deemed "probable" to return after a trip to the locker room, but that time never came, and after halftime it was clear he was out for the game.

CBS Sports' Dane Brugler put his loss into perspective: 

From Hundley to sophomore Neuheisel, the Bruins went from dynamic playmaker to game manager. CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli joked about the suddenly less compelling QB battle:

Neuheisel more than held his own in a tough situation in what was essentially a road game at AT&T Stadium, though, completing 23 of his 30 throws for 178 yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers.

He wasn't exactly marching the ball down the field with 5.9 yards per attempt, but the running game helped quell some of those early offensive problems. Paul Perkins tallied 126 yards on 24 carries, including a 58-yard scamper to set up Neuheisel's touchdown throw to Nate Iese. Jordon James took eight totes for 69 yards, and do-it-all linebacker Myles Jack had a few important carries. 

As the L.A. Daily News' Jack Wang noted, it was a career night for Perkins:

But he wasn't the only sophomore to impress. While Texas' Tyrone Swoopes, filling in for David Ash under center, only tallied 196 yards through the air, he made plays when they were needed. 

In the second quarter, he orchestrated a 62-yard touchdown drive to give the Longhorns an early lead. He made several plays outside of the pocket, drawing comparisons to a certain legendary Texas QB, via former NFL scout John Middlekauff:

Then, after UCLA's defense had buckled down for the majority of the second half and UCLA had recaptured the lead, Swoopes put together an 80-yard touchdown drive in just four minutes, finding John Harris on a perfectly timed throw to put the Longhorns ahead by four with 5:13 remaining. 

The roller-coaster ride wasn't done there, though. 

After a huge punt return from the electric Ish Adams, Neuheisel delivered a perfect 33-yard touchdown throw to Jordan Payton, who had freed himself on a knee-buckling double move. 

ESPN's Travis Haney praised the QB:

UCLA's defense held on the subsequent drive to pull out the victory, leading to this wonderful moment after the game, via Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg:

Fortunately for both teams dealing with injuries and inconsistent play, they each get next Saturday off before beginning conference play. The Bruins head to Arizona State on Thursday, September 25, while the Longhorns go to Kansas two days later. 

There are obviously kinks to iron out in the meantime, but each team can certainly feel a little more confident about its quarterback depth once the starters are healthy again. 

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Relive South Carolina's Thrilling Upset over the Georgia Bulldogs

The South Carolina Gamecocks beat the Georgia Bulldogs, 38-35, on Saturday in an SEC East showdown.

Here is a mash-up of highlights from the thriller. Will either of these teams reach the SEC title game at season's end? 

Watch the video and let us know.

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Purdue vs. Notre Dame: Score and Twitter Reaction

It was by no means easy, and it usually never is, but the Shillelagh Trophy will remain with the No. 11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the foreseeable future after the team outlasted the Purdue Boilermakers 30-14 Saturday night.

The final iteration of one of the sport's great rivalries—one week removed from the final Notre Dame-Michigan showdown, a 31-0 win for the Fighting Irish—developed into a quarterback duel from the opening gun that never ceased.

Notre Dame signal-caller Everett Golson continued his stellar play, which has him quietly in the Heisman hunt. By night's end, he went for 259 yards and a pair of scores through the air, while leading the Fighting Irish in rushing with 14 carries for another 56 yards and a score.

Notre Dame captured the victory on Twitter:

Boilermakers sophomore signal-caller Danny Etling made it tough on Golson, though, as he finished the day with a respectable 234 yards and two touchdowns, although an interception late all but sealed the contest.

Those who have experience with the 68-year feud, especially in recent years, understand that Purdue's futility and Notre Dame's success mean little when the two sides step on the field. Of course, this includes Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, who touched on the subject before Saturday's game.

"If you watch the film and turn it on you really see two different teams," Kelly said, per UND.com. "It's just an in-state rival. Just throw out all of what happened before, and they just played very, very well with a great deal of enthusiasm and emotion, and we're going to have to meet and exceed that."

Considering an eventual 1-10 squad gave the Fighting Irish all it could handle last year and the year before that saw the Boilermakers almost ruin an undefeated season, Kelly hit the nail on the head. 

At first, it appeared the Fighting Irish were set to kill off the trend, as the offense went six plays and scored a touchdown on the first drive of the game as wideout William Fuller—who finished with six catches for 51 yards and a score—reeled in the Golson pass.

Purdue proved game, though, reaffirming that this one would be close.

Etling started with a 7-of-7 mark (Golson started 9-of-9) and led his team 61 yards down the field to tie the game at seven apiece on their second drive.

Yahoo.com's Pat Forde offered a broad perspective shortly after:

After a field goal by Kyle Brindza, Etling once again proved up to the task and hit DeAngelo Yancey for a 19-yard touchdown connection.

Again, the Shillelagh Trophy tends to do this to the Boilermakers. WTHR.com's Bob Kravitz put it best:

To Etling's credit, his first half even came after an illegal hit from Max Redfield, who was promptly ejected for targeting.

The unexpected quarterback showdown only intensified right before the half, as Golson continued to do it all on his own, rushing for a 15-yard score to enter the locker room at the half up 17-14. For those keeping count, that made it 10 touchdowns to zero turnovers on the season for him, prompting a justifiable note from Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer:

The undercover Heisman contender saw his stellar play bleed into the second half, where he found Corey Robinson—who went on to lead the team in receiving by night's end with three receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown—for a score in the third frame to make it 24-14.

It was a disparity from which Purdue would not be able to recover, as Etling was the first to blink in the quarterback duel due to a fourth-quarter interception with eight minutes and change left in the game. In garbage time with the game already decided, he added a second interception to skew his stat line.

For Golson, the Heisman hype is all too real as he has come back at a quicker rate than anyone could have imagined. ESPN 1480's Greg Smith hints that, should his great play continue, voters will have a difficult time ignoring him in favor of other big names:

To paint in more broad strokes, Notre Dame continues to roll through one of the nation's toughest schedules.

The same cannot be said for the Big Ten, which once again has its legitimacy in serious jeopardy. Purdue's second-half ineffectiveness en route to the loss brings an alarming stat to life, as ESPN.com's Brian Bennett records:

Looking forward, Purdue returns home next week to take on Southern Illinois out of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, a contest that should help Darrell Hazell's side to get back on track before conference play begins in earnest.

Notre Dame gets a week to recuperate and then has to do its best the week after to avoid a letdown against a currently undefeated Syracuse team at home knowing full well a high-profile clash with Stanford comes after that, not to mention a trip to Florida State two weeks later.

Suffice it to say, the Fighting Irish's playoff mettle was tested fully once again Saturday, but the worst is yet to come. Given Golson's superb play, the Fighting Irish can advance with confidence.

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified. 

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Should South Carolina Be SEC East Favorite After Stunning Georgia?

The South Carolina Gamecocks took down the Georgia Bulldogs 38-35 in a battle to the finish in Columbia, South Carolina.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss what this huge win means for Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina program.

Do you think they will win the SEC East? Can they make it to the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

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How Georgia's Coaches Blew It and Why Todd Gurley Should Have Been Unleashed

The South Carolina Gamecocks took down the Georgia Bulldogs in a battle to the finish in Columbia, SC.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss what happened on Georgia's last drive and their future.

Do you think they still have a chance at the SEC East title? 

Watch the video and let us know!

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What We Learned About Alabama's QB Competition in Week 3

Three weeks into the 2014 season, Alabama coach Nick Saban has steadfastly refused to name a starting quarterback between Blake Sims and Jake Coker.

But following the Crimson Tide’s 52-12 drubbing of Southern Miss, it is clear that Saban really doesn’t need to. Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s division of playing time says it all: Sims is the guy.

Sims completed 12 of 17 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns, while Coker hit on five of seven for 46 yards. AL.com's Andrew Gribble questioned the quarterback competition via Twitter during the third quarter:

Alabama’s usage of Coker was telling. The Florida State transfer didn’t enter the game until 2:10 remained in the third quarter, with the Tide holding a comfortable 35-9 lead.

He played the final three drives, all of which ended in scores, with a field goal and a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Entering Saturday’s game against Southern Miss, Saban said he didn’t have a set plan for the quarterbacks’ usage in an interview on the SEC Network’s SEC Nation (via AL.com's Andrew Gribble).

I don't think we have a specific, "OK, you're going to play this long and the next guy's coming in." I think we want to play both guys in the game if we can. Last week I had a specific plan for it. Today, I think we want to just sort of see how it goes.

How did it go? Sims took control or at least did enough to keep his bosses happy. D.C. Reeves of TideSports.com provided a comparison between Sims and AJ McCarron regarding stats after each player's first three games as the starting quarterback:

Sims averaged a pedestrian 9.9 yards per attempt Saturday, with his longest completion a 27-yard pass to Amari Cooper. That’s Sims’ game: He doesn’t do anything spectacularly, but he hasn’t done anything to get Alabama beaten. Saban said as much on SEC Nation:

I think consistency and performance is important at any position, and especially at the quarterback position because you distribute the ball every down.

Blake obviously has been in the system a lot longer. Probably a little more comfortable, a little more confident. Jake is learning and improving all the time in terms of what is expected of him. 

We're just going to keep trying to develop both guys. Both guys really do encourage each other and I think our team has confidence in both guys.

Afterward, he told reporters that the quarterback position remains “week to week” and that Coker “needs to play,” as reported in a tweet by TideSports.com:

Sims might not have a long leash on the position, and it is certainly within the realm of possibility that Coker could have another chance at the role if Sims struggles with SEC defenses, starting with Florida next week.

But for now, it is clear that Sims is the Crimson Tide’s guy under center—without a doubt.

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Are Michigan's Mental Errors Brady Hoke's Fault?

For a brief moment late in the first half versus Miami (Ohio), it appeared that Michigan was still dazed from its 31-0 drubbing at the hands of the Notre Dame Irish.

A series of Wolverine miscues allowed Miami to tie the game at 10, and fans unleashed a cascade of boos from the stands. Michigan roared back to take a 17-10 lead at half, but fans again let the team have it after a stalled drive in the final minute was punctuated by two delay-of-game penalties on fourth down.

Michigan’s performance stood in stark contrast to Big Ten rival Ohio State, which took a 45-0 halftime lead on the way to a 66-0 drubbing of Kent State.

Brady Hoke had no answer for his team’s first-half struggles.

“I wanted to see our guys come out with energy,” Hoke said.

But whatever energy his team had quickly evaporated after a Devin Gardner interception resulted in a Miami field goal, quickly followed by a RedHawks touchdown after recovering the subsequent kickoff.

Hoke addressed the fans’ displeasure, saying, “We have great fans and they have high expectations.”

Down in Columbus, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer had set a clear goal for his team after its 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, as reported by the theozone.net:

We haven’t started particularly fast and we had a pretty good reputation for a while there coming out of the gates real fast, real hard and we haven’t done that yet…So we gotta go take the lead and play Ohio State-style football.

Hoke talked about energy, while Meyer talked about results.

After last week’s loss, Michigan fans expected the Wolverines to make similar quick work of Miami, a team that hasn’t won a game since the 2012 season. A paltry 17-10 halftime lead wasn’t what they expected.

One more tune-up game remains versus Utah, a squad that averages 57.5 points per game.

Hoke is on the hook to eliminate his team’s mental errors. If he can’t, then Michigan may be heading for another loss—and a lot more boos—before the Big Ten season starts.

 

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

All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department website.

Follow @PSCallihan.

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Nick Perry Ejection Not What Alabama's Shaky Secondary Needed Ahead of Florida

Up three scores in the second half against Southern Miss, No. 2 Alabama had some back luck that could come back to hurt it in a big way.

Starting free safety Nick Perry drilled Southern Miss wide receiver Kyle Foster well after a pass was thrown over his head. Perry was called for targeting, and after a review the play was upheld.

It was the right call, no doubt.

Perry’s helmet strikes Foster’s helmet as Foster is on the way down from jumping up to catch a pass. Perry had plenty of time to pull up, but didn’t, and was rightfully sent from the game.

He even took to Twitter immediately after his ejection to apologize to the fans.

Head coach Nick Saban acknowledged that it was the right call.

But this play has consequences that extend far beyond a half of football in an out-of-reach game against a group-of-five opponent that Alabama eventually won, 52-12.

Since the play occurred in the second half, Perry will also miss the first half of Alabama’s SEC opener against Florida on Saturday. That’s not at all what the Crimson Tide needed in a secondary that has had its share of ups and downs this season and is already limited by injury.

Alabama doesn’t have much in the way of depth behind Perry.

When he left the game, Geno Smith moved from "Star" back to free safety, while Maurice Smith, a cornerback, came in to play the Star spot. Geno Smith hasn’t had much playing time at free safety, and Maurice Smith’s natural spot is at corner.

The two Smiths will have their work cut out for them at practice this week, preparing for full-time duties, at least in the first half.

Alabama’s quarterback battle has, understandably, been in the spotlight in the early goings of the 2014 season, but its secondary has been shaky from the get-go.

It gave up 365 yards to start the year against West Virginia, which exploited its 6'3" receiver Kevin White in mismatches against the Crimson Tide’s undersized cornerbacks. It was really the only game Alabama has played against a legitimate offensive threat, and it largely failed that test.

Even Southern Miss had success, though in spurts, against the Alabama secondary on Saturday. Golden Eagles quarterback Nick Mullens finished the day with 207 passing yards, hardly gaudy numbers but on par with his games against Mississippi State (212) and Alcorn State (208).

The defense has also forced just one turnover, recovering a fumble against Florida Atlantic, and has yet to record an interception. That will definitely be a point of emphasis this week.

And the secondary will already be at less than full strength.

Safety Jarrick Williams, who was a rock at the Star position and was especially physical in run support, is out with a broken bone in his foot. Cornerback Eddie Jackson—who took the place of the 5’11” Bradley Sylve, who was burned several times by White in the opener—left the game, though Saban said afterwards that it likely won’t keep him out.

Which brings us to Florida.

It’s hard to get a read on the Gators, since they’ve played only one game after lightning cancelled their season opener against Idaho. In a win over Eastern Michigan, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel hit 31 of 40 passes for 248 yards and a score in about three quarters of play. The Gators moved the ball well—as they should have—against that level of competition.

Alabama struggled against teams that could throw the ball last season, and through three games, it hasn’t shown that those issues are behind it.

And as a team with a dangerous quarterback comes to Tuscaloosa next week for Alabama’s SEC opener, losing one of its starting safeties hurts even worse.

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Georgia Football: Dawgs' Road to the SEC Title Game After Loss to South Carolina

Tomorrow is a new day for the Georgia Bulldogs. 

And as cliché as that may sound, that’s probably the best news for Mark Richt's team following its 38-35 road loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday. 

A Bulldog effort that was plagued by glaring missteps—an inability to convert third downs, poor coverage in the secondary and two missed field—is over and done.  Now, it’s time to fix those mistakes and look forward to a host of still-achievable goals, including a trip to the SEC Championship Game.

Here’s what Georgia’s road to Atlanta for the conference title looks like.

 

It Is Broke, So Fix It

A big win against Clemson to open the season made it easy to overlook the flaws of the Bulldogs.  A furious second-half performance put away the Tigers and put a disguise over some underlying messes, but those inner demons flared up in a big way against South Carolina.

The problems Georgia had against the Gamecocks were mostly symptomatic of long-standing shortcomings.  Depending on one's perspective, that could be good or bad. 

On the positive side, no new chinks in Georgia’s armor were exposed.  Georgia missed a couple of big-play threats in its passing game and struggled to convert third downs. But everyone knew wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley would be out for the contest. 

The secondary struggled mightily, but that was expected under first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. It's reasonable for Georgia fans to anticipate the unit improving as the season progresses.  Special teams play—much to the chagrin of Bulldogs fans—has long been a problem for Georgia.  In that regard, two critical missed field goals was no surprise.

Nothing new popped up for Georgia, and that's a good thing.

On the negative side, however, it is fair to wonder when these issues will be resolved.

Any shortcomings of the offense should look better when star receivers get back on the field.  And to be clear, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has still moved the ball well.  Even against South Carolina, the Dawgs found success both through the air and on the ground.

Defensively, time is the reactive element in the improvement equation.  Pruitt, talented as he may be as a young defensive mind, is not a miracle worker.  It’s unfair to expect him to be one.  What he is, however, is an educator.  It takes time to teach young players.  Accordingly, it would be off base to think this defense—especially the secondary—won’t improve.

Special teams mistakes remain a mystery.  Over the summer, coaching duties were divvied up between linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and tight ends coach John Lilly.  In Week 1, special teams play (namely, a Todd Gurley kickoff return) stole the show.  On Saturday, special teams cost Georgia the game.  But much like the defense, this is still a work in progress.  And to be fair to kicker Marshall Morgan, his struggles against South Carolina were atypical.

The season is young.  The beauty for the Bulldogs is that even with all of these ugly mistakes, they still had a chance to win.  The talent is there.  The coaching is there.  If those two components continue to complement each other, the results will also be there.

 

Tactical Attack

As far as the schedule is concerned, Georgia is hardly out of the chase in the SEC East.  South Carolina has a conference loss on its resume as well, and the Gamecocks have the more difficult remaining schedule thanks to road games against Florida and Auburn.  Coach Steve Spurrier’s squad looked much improved on Saturday, but it would be ill advised to crown them as the division champ this early.  Another loss is certainly a possibility for South Carolina.

As for Florida, the other favorite in the division, nothing has changed—at least not relative to Georgia.  Beating the Gators in Jacksonville will give the Dawgs the advantage over the Gators, and Will Muschamp is 0-3 against Georgia since becoming Florida’s head coach.

Other contenders, like Missouri and Tennessee, may yet stake a claim to the division crown, but Georgia still has an opportunity to dethrone both the Tigers and the Volunteers.

If Georgia quickly rectifies its deficiencies, winning out is a feasible outcome for this team.  Doing so would most likely mean punching a ticket to the SEC Championship Game.

 

Learn and Move On

After the game, head coach Mark Richt was, as expected, left with regrets. 

But there are worse times for such second thoughts, and Georgia could learn something from their most recent opponent, the South Carolina Gamecocks.  After two games, South Carolina seemed down and out of SEC contention.  Now, the Gamecocks are arguably the favorite in the SEC East.

Georgia’s played only two games.  As South Carolina showed, a lot can change game to game and week to week.  If the Bulldogs can take strides forward on a practice-by-practice basis, the SEC Championship Game may still be in the cards.

 

Unless otherwise notes, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Winners and Losers from Week 3 of College Football

Even on a Saturday when we didn't see it coming, college football again reminded us how it never fails to be weird, unpredictable and wonderful as four ranked teams went down. 

In the afternoon, East Carolina upset suddenly cinderella Virginia Tech, Bobby Petrino found out the ACC won't be a cake walk and the Head Ball Coach somehow put another one over on college football's early season darling Dawgs. 

In prime time, USC's defense lost its teeth in Chestnut Hill and Rick Neuheisel's son led UCLA over Texas after the Bruins' Heisman trophy candidate Brett Hundley went down early.  

Needless to say there was a ton of drama. 

So let's get the conversation going. Which teams, players, coaches and/or moments were the best from Week 3? Which ones struggled?

Begin Slideshow

Southern Miss vs. Alabama: Game Grades, Analysis for the Crimson Tide

The Alabama Crimson Tide improved to 3-0 after controlling the Southern Miss Golden Eagles throughout a 52-12 victory.

Following a field goal from Southern Miss on the opening drive, Alabama never ceded control of the nonconference blowout.

 

Pass Offense

If teams can figure out how to stop Amari Cooper, the Alabama offense will be quite limited. The problem is, however, the junior is an absolute stud and not an easy matchup.

Blake Sims connected with Cooper on eight of his 12 completions, finishing with 168 yards and two touchdowns. Jacob Coker was efficient off the bench, finding his target on five of seven attempts.

 

Run Offense

T.J. Yeldon registered a meager 6.2 yards per carry, which was the sixth-best average on his own squad Saturday night. Yeah, it was a good day on the ground for Alabama.

Kenyan Drake scored three times, and Derrick Henry led the team with 79 yards, while Tyren Jones added 43 more and a touchdown. The Crimson Tide's blockers washed the Golden Eagles off the line of scrimmage all game long.

 

Pass Defense

Southern Miss receivers worked the Bama secondary on the opening drive, snagging five passes for 62 yards en route to a quick field goal. But the Tide increased the pressure and did not allow explosive plays, limiting Nick Mullens to 5.9 yards per attempt.

The Golden Eagles were most effective through the air, but Alabama surrendered so little to the USM offense, regardless.

 

Run Defense

Nothing. That's what the A'Shawn Robinson-led defensive line surrendered between the tackles. Southern Miss just had 57 yards on 18 carries, managing a single rush that gained more than 10. Overall, it was an outstanding performance by the men up front.

 

Special Teams

Excluding an unlucky bounce ricocheting off an Alabama punt blocker, it was another solid showing by the special teams. Adam Griffith hit all seven extra points, knocking home a 30-yard field goal, too.

JK Scott's lone punt pinned Southern Miss at its own 10, and Christion Jones averaged 27.8 yards per kick return.

 

Coaching

Watching Nick Saban chastise offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin after a touchdown was rather comical, especially when the Tide scored seven of them. Alabama averaged 7.5 yards per play, compared to allowing 4.8 to Southern Miss.

Additionally, the Crimson Tide were incredibly disciplined, being called for just three penalties, converting seven of 11 third downs and not committing an offensive turnover.

 

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

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Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips Celebrates 1st Sack of 2014 Season with Shmoney Dance

After getting his first sack of the season against the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday night, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips decided to show off some moves by doing the Shmoney dance.

The sack was a big one on third down, forcing the Volunteers to punt the ball away. According to Oklahoma's Twitter account, the sack now gives Phillips 2.5 for his career.

[Vine, Twitter]

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