NCAA Football News

Texas Football: Longhorns Must Find Offensive Identity, and Fast

The Texas Longhorns kicked off Big 12 play on a positive note with a 23-0 shutout over the Kansas Jayhawks.

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes completed 19-of-34 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown, in addition to a seven-yard rushing touchdown in his third career start. The offense's performance was a bit inconsistent, but a win is a win.

However, if Saturday's game taught us anything about the Longhorns, it's that its offense is still lacking an identity. 

Texas entered the season with the hopes of being a downhill running team. The Longhorns finished the game with 36 rushing attempts for 111 yards.

But here's the kicker: The Longhorns put up 104 yards on 24 carries in the first half.

Running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown are struggling to break loose, and the offensive line has done little to help open up holes in the ground game. Head coach Charlie Strong is not entirely blaming the O-line. He has told Brown and Gray that they have to run through defenses and break tackles.

But the running backs have not been able to do it.

The duo is very talented, but has been a non-factor in 2014. If the two backs continue down this path, it will be up to the sophomore Swoopes and his receivers to lead the offense.

And that will not be an easy task either.

Swoopes has played consistently well but has not done enough to make anyone believe he is capable of carrying the offense on his own. Quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson has kept the game plan fairly basic for the young quarterback. But a conservative offense will not work against high-scoring Big 12 opponents. 

The Texas defense was solid against the Jayhawks and has continued to progress following the embarrassing performance it put up against BYU in Week 2.

But the defense can only do so much.

At this point, there is no reason to believe that its inconsistent offense will allow Texas to keep up with the prodigious offensive attacks boasted by other Big 12 programs. Next week, Texas will face a Baylor team that averaged 59 points against its first three opponents. Hypothetically speaking, let's say the defense finds a way to hold the Bears to 30 points and keeps the Longhorns in the game. Does anyone truly believe the Texas offense would be able to score more than 30 points?

From what it has shown thus far, the logical answer to that question is no.

The offense has to figure out what its identity is and find a way to put points on the board in order to keep up with the potent offenses in the conference.

If it cannot do this, Texas fans need to be prepared for an extremely long season.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Improved Defense Gives Auburn Big Momentum Heading into LSU Matchup

AUBURN, Ala. — Through their first four games of the 2014 season, it's safe to say the Auburn Tigers offense doesn't have quite the same efficiency it had toward the end of 2013.

But as the nation's No. 5 team heads into a brutal SEC slate, there should be no reason to panic, thanks to the play of its defense.

Yes, the Auburn defense—a unit that has received plenty of criticism over the last several seasons, even when the Tigers were national title contenders—is playing some of its best football at the moment.

"Coach said if we came to play, it’s our time to make a statement," freshman linebacker Tre' Williams said after Auburn's 45-17 win against Louisiana Tech on Saturday. "Nobody really talks about the defense in the last few years. It’s about that time for people to start saying that defense is a prime thing for Auburn."

After allowing just 285 yards and 14 points away from home to a ranked Kansas State team, the Tigers, followed it up on homecoming Saturday by holding Louisiana Tech to only 321 total yards.

Opponents are averaging 313 yards of total offense and 16 points against Auburn this season, which is only 66 yards and six points more than the team's best defensive performance against a power-conference team in 2013.

Members of Auburn's defense said they feel like the unit is hitting its stride at the right time—right before the Tigers face six straight opponents who are currently ranked in the Top 25.

"I really think we're getting better on the defensive side," sophomore defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. "Of course, we've got to keep doing that every day and every practice."

With 45 points and 473 yards against Louisiana Tech, Auburn's offense rebounded from a rough game against Kansas State, but the unit still disappointed with several three-and-outs.

While the offense continues to work out the kinks, senior running back Corey Grant noted just how valuable the defense's play this season is to everyone on the team.

"It helps us out and gives us motivation," Grant said. "They've done their job, so we've got to step up and do ours. If one end of the team is holding their job up, the other side has to do it as well."

The Auburn defense did more than just motivate its offense Saturday—it opened the door for two easy first-half touchdowns.

The Tigers' defensive line got great penetration early against the Louisiana Tech offensive line and swatted down several of quarterback Cody Sokol's passes.

"We were playing our backfield," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "We batted a couple of balls down so that was big...Our defensive line really set the tone, playing the backfield early."

Adams took advantage of one of those tipped passes by coming down with what he called "the first interception of [his] life." The 305-pound defensive tackle then rumbled up the sideline and was five yards short of getting a pick-six.

"Lately, [defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson] has been talking about turnovers," Adams said. "This game I thought we did well with that. That’s what we came in to do, to capitalize on mistakes."

The Tigers also forced a fumble late in the second quarter. Cornerback Jonathan Jones stripped the ball away from a Bulldog receiver on a third-down conversion attempt, and Adams landed on the ball to complete an incredible first-half performance.

A few plays later, quarterback Nick Marshall took advantage of the great field position with a 37-yard touchdown pass to receiver Quan Bray.

Grant said Auburn fans can expect to see that same synergy between the offense and the defense as the season goes on, with each side playing off the performance of the other.

"I think we started off slow but as the game went on, we picked it up as an offense and defense," Grant said. "We came together and played as a team."

Both sides of the ball were bit by the injury bug. Starting middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and weak-side linebacker Kris Frost left the game early, while Adams missed a stretch of time with a leg issue.

But even with the setbacks, Auburn's defense showed an impressive amount of depth against the Bulldogs, plugging in key reserves and freshmen to sustain momentum—something that has been a problem for the unit in recent years.

"We have a balanced rotation at practice," senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. "Everybody knows what they are doing. Everyone is keyed into their assignment, whether they are a starter or not. Everyone takes part of their assignments and just goes out there and plays."

As Auburn's playmakers keep working back to their old ways on offense, they are confident in the play of their teammates on defense.

The Tigers have shown great improvement and depth through the first four games of the season, and they believe it has only just begun heading into the toughest part of their schedule.

"They've come very far," Grant said. "And they've got a ton of room to improve. That's the scary thing about it. They get better every week."

 

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

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

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Deshaun Watson vs. UNC: Stat Line, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

Clemson has been going with a dual-quarterback system to start the 2014, but freshman signal-caller Deshaun Watson may have the position all to himself after his six-touchdown performance against the University of North Carolina.

Here are Watson's final stats from his memorable night at Memorial Stadium:

Clemson came away with a 50-35 win, and Cole Stoudt—who had been sharing snaps with Watson—had very little to do with it, completing just one of his three passes on the evening for one yard.

Indeed, it was a record-breaking performance for Death Valley's new favorite quarterback, per Sports Illustrated:

His very first pass of the game set the tone for all that was to come. ACC Football provides a look at the 74-yard bomb to wide receiver Germone Hopper:

Hopper would find himself on the receiving end of a 50-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter from Watson, quickly establishing the freshman quarterback's ability to throw the ball downfield with accuracy.

Watson hit wideout Mike Williams for two scores in the third quarter, the first of which set a Clemson record, per ESPN ACC:

Watson found wide receiver and fellow freshman Artavis Scott for a 33-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.

Bart Boatwright of The Greenville News captured Watson saluting the Clemson faithful after his sixth touchdown pass of the game, a (relatively) simple five-yard toss to tight end Jordan Leggett:

This performance comes just days after head coach Dabo Swinney made public his opinion of his star quarterback, apparently considering Watson's talents as a true freshman beyond those of former Tiger and current Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Via Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier:

Despite Watson's heroics, Clemson is 2-2 on the season, although both of those losses have come against top-tier opponents in Florida State and Georgia. They have a chance at an ACC title, but will need some of the conference's other titans to topple, while they remain perfect along the way.

It will be difficult to do so with a freshman at the helm, especially one that took four games into the season to really establish himself. Still, the long-term future of the program is bright with young Watson calling the shots.

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Missouri vs. South Carolina: How Tigers' Win Reshapes Week 6 Rankings

Good luck trying to make any sense of the SEC East right now.

One week after losing at home to the Indiana Hoosiers, who had previously lost to Bowling Green, the Missouri Tigers upset the No. 13 South Carolina Gamecocks 21-20 in Columbia, South Carolina. As a result, Mizzou is the only team remaining perfect in the East, per the SEC Network:

With a result like this, you know the Top 25 will be affected in a not-so-insignificant way.

The Tigers are a tricky proposition when it comes to a potential place in the Top 25. Missouri's only played two Power-Five opponents and lost to one of them. Victories over South Dakota State, Toledo and UCF don't exactly say a lot. And it's not as if Mizzou completely dominated the Gamecocks on Saturday.

Missouri jumped ahead 7-3 in the first quarter but fell behind 10-7 with 1:36 in the first half. It wasn't until the final 1:36 of the game that the Tigers had the lead again. The Gamecocks outgained Missouri 338-280, held the Tigers to 2-of-16 on third downs and possessed the ball for nearly 12 more minutes.

Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel admitted after the game that even he was a bit surprised by his team's late comeback, per Pete Scantlebury of PowerMizzou.com:

Give the Tigers plenty of credit for the victory, but don't all of a sudden overrate them because of it. If you're going to call the loss to Indiana a fluke, then it's fair to look at the South Carolina win a bit skeptically too:

Conversely, it wouldn't be fair to completely abandon the Gamecocks, either. They still have wins against Georgia and East Carolina on their resume. Losing to Texas A&M and Missouri isn't all that bad.

According to ESPN.com, after dropping out of the Top 25 this week, the Tigers are receiving a few votes in both The Associated Press Poll and USA Today Poll. Meanwhile, South Carolina is 13th in the AP Poll and 15th in the USA Today Poll.

It's entirely possible that both teams will end up in the Top 25 for Week 6.

Below is a brief glimpse at where Missouri and South Carolina could end up when next week's polls are revealed.

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Michigan Loss to Minnesota Should Be Last Straw for Brady Hoke, Dave Brandon

Embarrassing losses to Notre Dame, Utah, and now Minnesota have put Brady Hoke in the firing line as angry fans call for his job. Joining him in the criticism is athletic director David Brandon, whom fans blame for hiring Hoke and for engaging in a series of public relations gaffes.

The future looks grim for both, as fans are fed up with repeated failures on and off the field.

Michigan losses to Minnesota are rare—the Wolverines have lost only four games in the series since 1968. But this 30-14 loss makes the chances of Hoke saving his job as remote as the Little Brown Jug which is now back in Minnesota.

He tried to jump start his struggling offense by benching fifth-year quarterback Devin Gardner in favor of backup Shane Morris. The result was a single rushing touchdown with Morris (7-for-19 passing for 49 yards and two turnovers) at the controls.

Morris stayed in the game despite a leg injury and after being staggered by a big hit. The injuries added to a rough performance in which he missed receivers, lost the football without even being hit and threw a pick six.

Hoke stubbornly defended his decision to start Morris and said he didn't see the aftermath of the hit that staggered his sophomore quarterback.

"I don't know if he had a concussion or not, I don't know that," said Hoke.

Morris later left on the field on a cart.

Gardner (3-for-6 for 39 yards) returned late in the fourth quarter to lead the team to a touchdown, but by that point the game was out of reach.

The loss adds to a bad week for athletic director David Brandon who had to retract a ticket promotion that allowed fans to get two tickets included with the purchase of two soft drinks. Season ticket holders were infuriated.

End-zone tickets for the Minnesota game start at $75 per seat, plus an additional donation to the athletic department. Tickets for premium games cost even more.

Angry fans flooded local sports talk shows and discussion boards with complaints but the gripes were best described by author John Bacon on the ThePostGamecom:

When they discount and dump thousands of tickets, do they expect their season ticket holders not to notice? When you paid a few thousand bucks for your four tickets, and the guy sitting next to you got in for a couple of Cokes, do the department's leaders really think you will pony up for the same sky-high prices next year?…Michigan has somehow created a world where loyalty is punished with price hikes, and disloyalty is rewarded with freebies.

Fans are upset that ticket prices have steadily risen under Brandon’s leadership, even as the team has faltered. Surrendering home games for neutral-field spotlight games, a diminished role for the Michigan marching band and changes to the stadium's game-day experience have added to the overall level of frustration. 

The student section at Michigan stadium has also shrunk over the last few seasons as a result of rising prices and unpopular seating policies.

Brandon finds himself inextricably linked to Hoke after hiring him to bring back traditional Michigan football in the wake of Rich Rodriguez’ dismissal. When Hoke went 11-2 during his first season, Brandon took a high profile role, roaming the sidelines and basking in the success of the program.

But the success was short lived. The next season Michigan was blown out by Alabama, 41-14, on way to a 8-5 finish and last season the team slid further, finishing 7-6.

Brandon was a backup player under Bo Schembechler and probably dreamed of hearing his name chanted by the Michigan Stadium crowd. But today the calls were for his dismissal.

The only hope for Hoke (and by extension Brandon) is for Michigan to somehow beat in-state rival Michigan State. The task looks nearly impossible for a Michigan team that has struggled on the road under Hoke and appears be to unravelling.

After the game Hoke said, "the team's goals of winning a championship are still out there." 

But it looks increasingly like those goals will be left for the next coach and athletic director.

 

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

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Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 5

Kenny Hill is starting to make people forget about a certain former Aggies quarterback. After his thrilling Week 1 performance vs. South Carolina, Hill lit up the Arkansas secondary for 386 passing yards to go along with four touchdowns to earn this week's honor as our top performer. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee discusses Kenny's big day.

Can Hill keep this going?

Watch the video and let us know!               

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Missouri vs. South Carolina: Score and Twitter Reaction

In an SEC matchup that featured little in the way of cohesive offensive play, the Missouri Tigers upset the No. 13 South Carolina Gamecocks by a final score of 21-20 on Saturday.

Tigers running back Russell Hansbrough stood out in this mostly dire contest, defined by staunch defense, miscues in the passing game and, of all things, excellent punting. Hansbrough scored the decisive touchdown, his third of the game, with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter.

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

The SEC is known for its suffocating defenses, but that reputation hasn't been upheld by the 2014 Gamecocks, per ESPN Stats & Info:

So it was a surprise to see them handle a Mizzou offense that averaged 38 points per game through the first four weeks of the season, albeit against largely inferior competition.

Josh Kendall of The State called attention to the Gamecocks' improved play in the first half with this nifty tidbit: 

Still, Missouri opened up the scoring with an 18-yard touchdown run by Hansbrough.

South Carolina struggled to get things rolling from the get-go, with quarterback Dylan Thompson finding it difficult to hook up with his receiving options with any consistency. The Gamecocks didn't answer back until late in the first quarter, scoring their first points of the game with an Elliott Fry field goal.

Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk was even worse than Thompson early on, struggling to string any passes together and watching several Tigers possessions end in punts.

South Carolina running back Mike Davis did well for the Gamecocks, bouncing around and shedding tacklers in the second quarter. He rewarded his teammates with a touchdown run late in the second quarter to give the Gamecocks a 10-7 lead just before the half.

Joe Walljasper of the Columbia Daily Tribune noted the Tigers had done well to contain the Gamecocks offense up to that point:

Missouri failed to convert on third down all night long, thanks to abysmal play from Mauk, who looked nothing like the polished passer who put up 331 yards against the Indiana Hoosiers a week ago.

The Tigers converted just two of 15 third downs on the night.

Mauk—doing very little to ingratiate himself with his own team's fans on the evening—drew the ire of Gamecocks fans when he failed to slow down after running out of bounds and hit South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier. Bleacher Report's own Barrett Sallee posted a clip of the notorious play:

Worth noting: Spurrier got up very quickly.

The ball rarely ventured away from midfield in the third quarter, with both teams continually trading punts. In fact, neither team committed a turnover on the night, which is astonishing for a game with such a low scoreline. The Gamecocks did manage to add a field goal in the third quarter to extend their advantage to 13-7.

Sallee summed up the drab affair with this stat early in the fourth quarter:

This game reignited the eternal debate on Twitter: great defenses or atrocious offenses? Naturally, fans chimed in with arguments for both sides:

Spurrier put an end to that debate, at least for Gamecocks fans. Via ESPN SEC:

With the Tigers offense struggling, the Gamecocks got what looked to be a knockout blow midway through the fourth quarter. Thompson hit wide receiver Pharoh Cooper for a 23-yard touchdown pass, providing South Carolina with a relatively comfortable 20-7 lead.

Perhaps the Tigers offense was merely procrastinating. Just as soon as the Gamecocks opened up a double-digit lead, the Tigers cut it down to size. They drove 68 yards in three plays, most of it coming on a 41-yard pass from Mauk to senior wideout Bud Sasser.

Hansbrough notched his second rushing touchdown of the night from one yard out to make the score 20-14 and put his team right back in the contest.

David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune noted Mauk surpassed his passing output on the night during that one drive:

The Tigers defense held tough on the next possession and forced a lackluster punt that Marcus Murphy did well to return into enemy territory.

Mauk, in fits and starts, brought the team from just inside the Gamecocks half of the field to the 2-yard line. Gamecocks fans holding their breath likely passed out before the Tigers ran a play on third down. SB Nation points out why:

It all came down to fourth down.

The Gamecocks defense, which had done so well for three-and-a-half quarters, finally relented. Hansbrough burrowed through the pileup on the goal line, and when the referees finally sifted through the rubble, they found the powerful back had indeed hit paydirt. Mizzou Football was excited, as one might expect:

The Tigers got the extra point to take a 21-20 lead and left South Carolina with just over a minute to make a comeback. The Tigers went 3-of-3 on fourth-down conversions, in stark contrast with their struggles on third down.

Thompson failed to connect with his receivers on the ensuing possession, and the Gamecocks turned the ball over on downs, allowing Missouri to kneel the ball for the surprising come-from-behind victory.

Spurrier will be disappointed in his team's disjointed play. The Gamecocks drop to 3-2 overall, 2-2 in the SEC East, and needed a merely competent offense to go along with their rejuvenated defense. It will be tough for them to fight through the slog in the SEC East without players on both sides of the ball firing on all cylinders.

Missouri did well to erase the sting of losing to Indiana at home and is now 1-0 in SEC play. Mauk will need to be much more consistent going forward, but the Tigers have an excellent chance of making a run in the SEC East this season. A showdown with No. 12 Georgia awaits on Oct. 11.

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Cincinnati vs. Ohio State: Game Grades, Analysis for the Buckeyes

The Cincinnati Bearcats gave No. 22 Ohio State an early scare Saturday night, but the Buckeyes stepped up in the second half, scoring the game's final 17 points to secure a 50-28 victory. 

Ohio State (3-1) was dominant early, building a 30-7 lead midway through the second quarter. A fumble from freshman running back Curtis Samuel sparked a 21-3 run for Cincinnati (2-1), though, and it looked like Tommy Tuberville's team was set to give Urban Meyer a 60-minute fight.

That's when the Buckeyes flexed their muscle on both sides of the ball. 

How did Ohio State grade out from its 22-point victory?

 

Ohio State Buckeyes Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: The Buckeyes pass offense continues to surge with quarterback J.T. Barrett behind center. The redshirt freshman eclipsed 300 passing yards for the second consecutive game, as he completed 26 of 36 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns (no interceptions) Saturday night.

His receivers were up and down again—four of Barrett's five first-half incompletions were the result of dropped passes—but it was an overall fantastic performance for Ohio State through the air.

 

Run Offense: The Buckeyes were even better on the ground. Led by sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State pounded Cincinnati, piling up 400 rushing yards on 65 carries—6.2 yards per rush.

Elliott was sensational, running for a career-high 182 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries. Barrett was also a threat on designed runs and scrambles, rushing for 79 yards on 14 carries.

The Buckeyes showcased their depth, too, as seven different ball-carriers registered runs of longer than 10 yards.

 

Pass Defense: After opening the season against run-heavy Navy, uneven Virginia Tech and overmatched Kent State, Meyer knew that Cincinnati was going to be the first true test for his new-look pass defense.

The Buckeyes failed that test, allowing Gunner Kiel to throw for 352 yards and four touchdown passes. Ohio State had no answer for receiver Chris Moore, who hauled in three passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns.

The secondary tightened things up in the game’s final 20 minutes, but a disastrous first half has to worry Meyer quite a bit. Joey Bosa's sack and forced fumble that resulted in a safety, however, was the best play of the game for the Buckeyes defense.

 

Run Defense: Ohio State kept Cincinnati from establishing any momentum on the ground. The Bearcats rushed for 71 yards in the first half, highlighted by a 19-yard run from Kiel.

Those rushing lanes closed entirely in the game's final 30 minutes, though, as the Bearcats finished the game with 70 rushing yards. Much of that was the result of Cincinnati trying to pass its way back into contention, but holding any team to minus-one yards rushing for an entire half is incredible.

 

Special Teams: The Buckeyes haven't had an impact in the return game all year, and that was certainly the case against Cincinnati. Dontre Wilson returned just one kickoff for 18 yards and one punt for two yards.

But there weren't any negative special teams plays for Ohio State, and freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger turned in a solid performance, connecting on his two field-goal attempts from 25 and 42 yards.

 

Coaching: The Buckeyes coaching staff struggled to find a way to stop Kiel and Cincinnati's passing attack early.

Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash was pulling his safeties from their deep coverage to guard the Bearcats perimeter game, which resulted in the Buckeyes getting beat deep multiple times.

Ohio State adjusted midway through the third quarter, allowing Cincinnati to gain just 27 yards on its final four drives.

On the other side of the ball, the offensive coaches realized that Cincinnati had no answer for Elliott and the ground game, allowing the Buckeyes to pound their way to a victory.

There were some great adjustments on both sides of the ball, which was the difference in what turned out to be a comfortable Ohio State win. 

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Florida State Will Not Make It Through the Season Undefeated

It’s become abundantly clear, even after a 56-point output, that Florida State will see its unblemished streak come to an end at some point this season.

The loss may not come next week at Wake Forest. (In fact, just remove that thought entirely from your brain.) Notre Dame and Miami—two of the tougher teams still to come—might fall short in their efforts to play spoiler. And given the manageable regular-season slate, make no mistake, the Seminoles could still head to the College Football Playoff unscathed and no one would be surprised.

But injuries, uneven performances and questions at various positions—issues that were absent from this team’s run all of last season and were difficult to find on paper this summer—have surfaced, altering the outlook when it comes to the bigger picture.

And thus, perfection no longer seems feasible given what we’ve seen.

Granted, these are lofty, unreasonable expectations. With a wealth of talent returning at key positions—quarterback, offensive line, defensive line, defensive back—we somewhat casually assumed that the Seminoles would roll through the ACC and, perhaps, do the unthinkable again.

Thus far, despite the turbulence, this goal has not derailed. Style points mean nothing for a team that will be granted access into the Playoff if it goes unbeaten.

And yet, the concerns with this team’s 4-0 start are real.

It’s a combination of things that have Florida State looking human, although perhaps the notion that a team could cruise to back-to-back undefeated seasons was misguided in the first place.

It doesn’t matter how many times you pointed at a manageable schedule and yelled, “LOOK!” Perfection in college football—given its various layers and unpredictable points of failure—rarely receives the deserved appreciation.

In turn, and perhaps unfairly so, the Seminoles are evaluated and assessed on a different curve from any other program. While most teams would love to go to North Carolina State, score 56 points and walk away victorious, theirs is a unique situation with unique expectations. Given recent headlines surrounding their star player, the attention on this team will only amplify.

In reality, however, Jameis Winston looked very much a Heisman quarterback in his first start since his one-game suspension. It wasn’t perfect—prompting his head coach to chew him out after one of his two interceptions—although without his 365 yards passing and four touchdowns, Florida State very likely loses this game. 

Winston, as you might imagine, was thrilled to be back on the field.

Jameis Winston on how good it felt for him being back on the field with his team after suspension: "Oh, man. You just don't understand."

— Natalie Pierre (@Natalie_Pierre) September 28, 2014

Assuming Winston continues to do what he does—keep plays alive, score touchdowns and move the ball down the field while limiting turnovers—Florida State’s offense should continue to produce. But with a struggling offensive line—a unit that came into the season with the label of being the nation’s best—such production could be hindered by the way the group in front of him performs.

This is a worry, but it's not the worry. Judging by the 56-41 final score against NC State, you know where we're headed.

The defense has floundered, and injuries have not helped matters. Mario Edwards Jr., the best defensive lineman on the roster, was held out of this game with a concussion. Derrick Mitchell and Eddie Goldman—two critical pieces along the defensive front—suffered injuries on Saturday. Goldman, who has been outstanding in recent weeks, was able to return.

Taking injuries into consideration, this group still has not been as polished as expected. Although NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett deserves the utmost credit for his performance, the Seminoles missed tackles, blew assignments and allowed Brissett to make plays.

Some of which were more outstanding than others:

The self-inflicted wounds and surprising play of NC State put Florida State in a 24-7 hole, and Jimbo Fisher and company deserve the utmost credit for bouncing back and winning on the road. The 56-41 score isn’t ideal, but again, all that matters is staying unbeaten. 

And yet, it’s hard to ignore some of the issues that have hampered a team that made it look far too easy last season.

Although there are only a handful of games that will be deemed “losable” in the regular season, this matchup against NC State—albeit in a building that will send chills down most FSU fans’ spines—wasn’t exactly on our radar to begin with.

With its inconsistencies on both sides of the ball, Florida State is playing with fire, and while the teams coming up on the schedule don’t exactly instill the utmost fear—Notre Dame, Louisville, Miami and Florida for starters—these are all games that the Seminoles should be concerned with given what we’ve seen. 

As it stands, perfection is very much intact. The lofty, unrealistic goals are still in play. But Florida State, even with one of the best players on the planet, looks human, and at some point the woes of this team along with some of the misfortune—the items taking a back seat to more headline-grabbing storylines—will likely surface. When they do, fortunes will change.

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Missouri Tigers QB Maty Mauk Trucks Gamecocks Head Coach Steve Spurrier

In the fourth quarter of No. 13 South Carolina's SEC showdown with Missouri, Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk took off running. What resulted was an unfortunate case of "wrong time, wrong place" for South Carolina's head coach, Steve Spurrier.

Twitter was quick to react to the truck-stick laid on the 69-year-old maverick:

Matty Mauk blatantly ran into Spurrier! That was classic and mean! #reapectyourelders

— Brian Finneran (@BFinn86) September 28, 2014

That look on Steve Spurrier's face when Matty Mauk pushed him over was priceless.

— Joseph Stewart (@jstewart12a) September 28, 2014

Matty mauk what were you thinking running into the ol ball coach and not even apologize. Tisk tisk

— Dominick Abate' (@ABATEDONICK) September 28, 2014

Matty Mauk definitely just went after the ole Head Ball Coach on that one haha. Spurrier about threw his visor at him. #MIZZvsSC#SEC

— Jarrod Mullins (@JarrodMullins1) September 28, 2014

[Vine]

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Nebraska's Play-Call Board Features the Kid Dressed as Kliff Kingsbury

Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini may be college football's biggest troll, and I say that with the utmost respect and admiration. One keen Twitter user noticed a special image on the Huskers' play-call board during the team's Big Ten battle with Illinois on Saturday evening.

NEBRASKA’S PLAY CALL BOARD THO pic.twitter.com/PJmJ9y9eDd

— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) September 28, 2014

That image, of course, is of the Kliff Kingsbury kid. No, not the child of the Texas Tech coach, but rather the kid who dressed up as Kingsbury's spitting image last Halloween.

Best costume ever. #wreckempic.twitter.com/KRn5nrucN1

— Will Q (@bigWillieq) October 27, 2013

Why is this featured in a game between two teams that don't even face the Red Raiders? One must imagine the coach who held up a cat at the Huskers' spring game in tribute to his fake Twitter account may have had something to do with it.

Just for good measure, here's a side-by-side of the kid and the coach.

[Twitter]

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Winners and Losers from Week 5 of College Football

Another college football Saturday is coming to a close. If you can believe it, October is just around the corner. The playoff field is, ever so slowly, starting to take some form.

Just a little, though.

From a pair of come-from-behind victories in the SEC to a blowout in the Big House and a shootout involving Florida State, there was a lot going around the college football landscape. That's why we have Winners and Losers to get you caught up on all the highlights.  

Yes, Winners and Losers is up before the college football Saturday is over. Fear not, as this post will be updated throughout the evening as events warrant. 

Which teams and players came out as winners in Week 5? Which ones didn't? The answers are in the following slides.

Begin Slideshow

Are the Florida State Seminoles Overrated?

With Jameis Winston back under center, the Florida State Seminoles escaped defeat yet again, beating North Carolina State, 56-41, on Saturday. Following a narrow victory at home over Clemson last week, it's time to start wondering just how good this Seminoles team is. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate the validity of the Florida State football team.

Are the Seminoles worthy of their No. 1 ranking? 

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Oregon State vs. USC: Live Score and Highlights

Oregon State 0, USC 0—Early 1st Quarter

The No. 18 USC Trojans are hosting the Oregon State Beavers in an important early-season Pac-12 meeting.

ESPN is carrying the matchup, and Bleacher Report is providing live scoring updates and in-game analysis. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Texas vs. Kansas: Game Grades, Analysis for the Longhorns and Jayhawks

The Longhorns blanked the Kansas Jayhawks 23-0 on Saturday behind a three-touchdown effort from Tyrone Swoopes and four interceptions by the defense.

Charlie Strong's team will take the win, but the final result looks much more important than the overall effort.

Texas looked flat once again in the second half, outgaining the Jayhawks by a mere 16 yards. Against a team that's just 6-22 under head coach Charlie Weis, that performance inspires little confidence with the meat of the Horns' Big 12 schedule still ahead.

As their grades will show, both teams have significant room for improvement.

 

Kansas Jayhawks Game Grades

Passing Offense: Montell Cozart's four interceptions killed his team's chances of ever making a run, especially with the three he threw in Texas territory. He's a good athlete with extremely raw quarterbacking skills, so none of this should be a surprise. He probably should have redshirted last season.

Rushing Offense: The Jayhawks only averaged 3.4 yards per carry, but they started to wear down the Longhorns front in the second half. De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery were consistent throughout the game, combining for 122 yards on 25 totes.

Passing Defense: Swoopes threw for 218 yards and two touchdowns despite missing a lot of big plays. He had one touchdown called back and missed on a second-quarter bomb to Jaxon Shipley. He was still able to find open receivers when he needed to while never facing a ton of pressure. 

Rushing Defense: Aside from the 30-yard reverse by Armanti Foreman and Swoopes' touchdown run, the Jayhawks were tough up front. Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown gained just 73 yards on their 25 carries. Keon Stowers required two blockers throughout the game, and Ben Heeney was absolutely everywhere.

Special Teams: Shipley's 41-yard punt return set up Texas' first touchdown of the day. Other than that, Trevor Pardula averaged 41.2 yards per punt, including one that bounced backward mere inches from the goal line. The Jayhawks blocked a kick to close the first half.

Coaching: You have to wonder why Weis kept asking Cozart to make plays with his arm, especially on the fade into the end zone on 4th-and-goal. Kansas had eight drives end in Texas territory with no points to show for it, which is just inexcusable.

 

Texas Longhorns Game Grades

Passing Offense: Swoopes was less efficient in this game as he took more shots downfield, but he also notched a career-high 218 yards. He continues to make plays when he gets outside the pocket, which Texas should continue to incorporate into the game plan. He did leave some plays on the field that he will have to make in order for this team to put up more points.

Rushing Offense: Without the double-reverse to Foreman, the Longhorns averaged a paltry 2.3 yards per carry. The offensive line still can't create holes, making it difficult for the running backs to wear down opposing defenses. It should worry Longhorns fans that there wasn't much visible improvement over the bye week.

Passing Defense: It's tough to complain about a unit that had four interceptions and should have had a fifth. Quandre Diggs got the party started in the end zone, and then Duke Thomas had the three biggest plays of the game with two of his own and a pass breakup on 4th-and-goal. Texas has already intercepted nine passes this season through four games, which is just one shy of last year's total.

Rushing Defense: Tackling was much better in this game, though the front seven got pushed around to start the second half. This group looked much better once Vance Bedford went back to a 4-3 look. Malcom Brown, Jordan Hicks and Jason Hall all had big games.

Special Teams: This unit is still one of the most frustrating on the team, offsetting each solid play with one that makes you want to yank your hair out. Shipley ripped off a 41-yard punt return in the first quarter and then had another big one called back on a penalty. Punter William Russ is still spotty at best, while Nick Rose shanked an extra point and had a field goal blocked before drilling one from 45 yards out. 

Coaching: Once again, the Longhorns looked like they were sleepwalking to start the second half. Both sides of the ball picked it up in the fourth quarter, but it's been the same movie each of the past three games. Though he let Swoopes take more shots downfield, Shawn Watson still puts a lot on the defense with his conservative play-calling. All three of Texas' scoring drives covered 28 yards or less.

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Odds on the Michigan Wolverines' Next Head Coach

After Michigan's 16-point loss to Minnesota on Saturday, which puts the Wolverines at an underwhelming 2-2, head coach Brady Hoke's seat is getting hotter by the second.

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Adam Kramer discusses the possibility of Hoke losing his job.

Do you think Brady Hoke will last through the season?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Jameis Winston Needs More Help If Florida State Is Going to Be a Contender

Florida State got Jameis Winston back at quarterback. Having the Heisman Trophy winner under center was supposed to make life easier.

But nothing was easy on Saturday.

No. 1 FSU fell behind by 17 points in the first quarter and needed every bit of Winston's 365 passing yards to escape with a 56-41 win over North Carolina State.

Coach Jimbo Fisher said earlier this week that FSU's win over Clemson was an indication that the Seminoles could do well without the suspended Winston. And he is right. FSU is more than just Winston.

At the same time, FSU needs to not be so dependent on Winston. Against NC State, the offense was still too one-dimensional. The offensive line struggled for large periods of the game, both in pass protection and clearing rushing lanes. And the defense missed dozens of tackles.

Here's a look at what FSU must do to improve and remain a team that's contending for an Atlantic Coast Conference title and a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff:

 

Offensive Line Must Improve 

FSU's strength in 2014 was supposed to be the return of four starting offensive linemen, all of whom would be seniors. A fifth would be senior center Austin Barron, with five starts under his belt. 

But the line has been shaky, especially when run blocking.

The Seminoles managed just 106 rushing yards against Oklahoma State. FSU had negative rushing yards through four quarters against Clemson before Karlos Williams had two rushes—including the game-winning 12-yard touchdown run—as FSU finished the night with 13 rushing yards.

In the first half against N.C. State, FSU managed just 16 yards on 12 carries . After halftime, FSU had 150 rushing yards on 21 carries on Saturday. 

Pass protection was also a major issue early in the game. Winston was sacked three times, one of which resulted in a fumble. Center Austin Barron played better. Left tackle Cameron Erving, the ACC's top lineman in 2013, isn't playing nearly as well as last year. Right tackle Bobby Hart has been beaten too many times.

The Seminoles will only go as far as the offensive line takes them.

 

Where's The Defense?

Fisher won't use it as an excuse, but FSU was without defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (concussion) and defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample (torn pectoral muscle) on Saturday. It's not clear when Edwards will return but Lawrence-Stample is out for the season.

And, at times, FSU played without linebacker Terrance Smith and defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell on Saturday. So take away four key players, and of course there will be issues.

Fisher, the Seminoles and fans don't want to hear that. There are expectations that the top-10 recruiting classes under Fisher have assembled an amount of depth that allows them to beat almost every team on the schedule. And that's a good working theory.

But FSU is missing too many tackles. It's happening up front—on a defensive line where backups are now starters due to injuries. But it's disturbing when linebackers and defensive backs whiff in the open field.

Fisher doesn't like to tackle in practice because of the risk of injury, which is a valid reason. But FSU must (gasp) learn how to tackle. It's stunning to think that's an issue with a team that allowed 12 points per game in 2013. But it is a major concern.

The missed tackles have led to far too many points being scored by opponents. FSU allowed 20 points in just two games last season, giving up 34 in a win over Boston College and 31 in a victory over Auburn in the BCS championship game. On Saturday, FSU allowed 24 first-quarter points—the most in its 769-game history.

 

Winston Can't Do it Alone 

FSU put 56 points on the board on Saturday, and college football analysts and Seminoles fans have plenty to criticize. The positive is that FSU is 4-0 and the sky isn't exactly falling (Michigan is a good example).

The best news is that Winston is back and he has a remarkable connection with Rashad Greene (11 catches, 125 yards, one TD), and sophomore Bobo Wilson (six catches, 109 yards, two TDs) is a rising star. 

The bad news is that FSU is beatable if all it offers up on Saturday is a Heisman quarterback, a few good receivers, an inconsistent ground game and an injury-plagued defense that isn't making tackles. 

The Seminoles are good enough to beat next week's opponent, Wake Forest, and then Syracuse. But a 6-0 record could mask the concerns, especially with the showdown against Notre Dame looming on Oct. 18.

Fisher needs to evaluate his options. Does he change schemes? Does he change practice habits? Does he make personnel moves?

A third of the regular season is done and FSU should be happy that it is 4-0. But the Seminoles won't stay that way for long if they keep doing what they're doing now.

"Getting by" and "escaping" are what FSU has done so far. But that's not a good long-term answer.

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

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Wes Lunt Injury: Updates on Illinois QB's Status and Return

As the Illinois Fighting Illini prepare to take on the No. 21 Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday night, they'll have to factor in the absence of starting quarterback Wes Lunt.

According to Sean Callahan of HuskerOnline.com, Lunt is dealing with a lingering injury he picked up earlier in the week:

Matt Daniels of The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois, reported that senior Reilly O'Toole will start in Lunt's place:

Adding a bit of confusion to the situation was the fact that Lunt was in full uniform and warming up with the other QBs before the game, per Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald:

The sophomore entered Saturday with 1,237 yards passing for 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He ranked second among Big Ten quarterbacks in yards, first in touchdowns and fifth in QB rating (154.1).

The Illini were major underdogs before Lunt went down, and without him, they're facing an even steeper mountain to climb.

Illinois will need the signal-caller back quickly because the team plays No. 19 Wisconsin in two weeks' time.

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Stanford Football: Are Cardinal Really Ready to Face Notre Dame?

Instead of heading into next week's massive showdown against Notre Dame with an easy fourth win in their pockets, the Stanford Cardinal will hit the road to face the Irish battered and bruised after being pushed to the limit against a Washington Huskies squad. 

Even in Washington, the Huskies were supposed to be an easy win for the Cardinal. Washington struggled to bury Hawaii in Week 1, then went into a shootout a week later with Eastern Washington. 

Instead, the Huskies never seemed to go away on Saturday. Three minutes after Stanford took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, Washington quarterback Cyler Miles found Jaydon Mickens on a 25-yard strike. A failed extra point kept the score at 10-6. 

Then after a Stanford field goal, a fumble return for a touchdown by the Huskies' Shaq Thompson knotted the score up at 13-13 heading into the locker room. 

It wasn't until five minutes left in the game that Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan finally found pay dirt on a five-yard touchdown run that gave his team the 20-13 win. 

Nevertheless, Stanford struggled mightily with three turnovers. The 3-of-12 third down efficiency doesn't look that pretty, either. 

So, are the Cardinal doomed for a rough night against the Irish, or can Stanford salvage their College Football Playoff hopes and upend Norte Dame in South Bend? 

While the Cardinal struggled offensively, they still found a way to put up 20 points against a team that in all but one game has allowed fewer than that. 

They also outpaced the Huskies 364-179 in offensive yards. 

Against the Irish though, they'll be facing far and away the best defense they've seen in 2014. Through three games, Notre Dame is giving up just 10 points per game. 

The Irish are also 17th nationally in takeaways with nine—six interceptions and three fumble recoveries. 

Notre Dame possesses a decent offense headed by quarterback Everett Golson, albeit not necessarily a gaudy one statistically. They rank 52nd in passing and 46th in scoring through their first three games.

However, Golson and Co. have to face the Cardinal, whose stout defense through Week 4 had allowed the fewest points per game in the country at just 6.5. 

As the overly-cliched saying goes, defense wins championships. It was Stanford's defense that kept them in the game against Washington as their offense floundered time and time again. 

And it'll be the Cardinal's defense that gives them a shot at upsetting the Irish. 

The key will be putting pressure on and containing Golson. The Irish don't have any big-play backs that can hurt you in one strike in the running game—through Week 4 no Irish running back has racked up 120 yards on the year. 

Golson is also notorious for struggling in big games. The only time he's thrown for over 200 yards against a ranked team was against Alabama in the BCS Championship game, a contest where he was forced to throw as the Crimson Tide built up a big lead early. 

The Cardinal offense will have a week to regain form, while their defense should continue to be staunch. 

The best teams don't learn through losing, they learn through gutting out tough wins. 

The Cardinal did that against a pesky Washington team, and that should have them ready to inject some life back to their playoff hopes against Notre Dame next week. 

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Arkansas vs. Texas A&M: Game Grades, Analysis for Razorbacks, Aggies

The Texas A&M Aggies were able to rebound from a two-touchdown deficit to upend the Arkansas Razorbacks by a score of 35-28 on Saturday.

Kenny "Trill" Hill threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns in the win. Although the talented signal-caller started slowly, he came through when his team needed him the most. 

It was a tough loss for Arkansas. Bret Bielema's team was the better side for the majority of the afternoon. However, foolish penalties and mental errors ultimately extended the Hogs' streak of losses in SEC play to 14. 

A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

Check out first-half grades and final grades for the Aggies and Razorbacks. Additional analysis for different positional units will also be addressed.

 

Arkansas Razorbacks Game Grades Analysis

Passing Offense

The play-action game was working very effectively through the first three quarters. Brandon Allen found elite tight end Hunter Henry early and often. Allen made a beautiful touchdown throw to A.J. Derby for a 44-yard touchdown. 

As the game progressed, the A&M pressure was hindering the signal-caller's ability to stand in the pocket. Although efficient throughout the contest, Allen wasn't able to truly test the Aggies defense down the field. 

 

Pass Defense

The unit in the first half was very good. Cornerbacks were challenging the vaunted A&M stable of receivers, making it difficult to get separation. Holding Hill to 96 yards passing in one half is an impressive feat. 

It was a different story in the second portion of the game. A&M scored on touchdown throws of 86 and 59 yards. A busted coverage also led to a 50-yard completion. It was a tale of two halves for the secondary. 

 

Rushing Offense

In terms of a rushing output, racking up 285 yards on the ground versus the No. 6 team in the country is very good. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams combined for more than 220 yards and two touchdowns. 

If we're including the offensive line within this unit, there were some flubs. A poor snap to Allen late in the fourth quarter killed the last drive, ultimately leading to the missed field goal.

A bizarre tripping penalty by tackle Dan Skipper wiped out a touchdown. The potential score would have put the Razorbacks up by three touchdowns late in the second half. False-start penalties also hindered the offense and put Allen behind the chains. 

 

Rush Defense

The unit as a whole was relatively solid. It bottled up Trey Williams, holding him to 26 yards on nine carries. More than anything, it got consistent pressure on Hill. Trey Flowers in particular was a force all afternoon. 

As the afternoon wore on, the pressure lessened. Tra Carson was able to pick up big chunks of yardage. Much like the team, the unit somewhat wilted in the fourth quarter. A&M rushed for 137 yards on 27 carries for a respectable 5.1 yards-per-carry average. 

 

Special Teams

The fake punt for a touchdown by Sam Irwin-Hill was a wonderful play. Not only did the Australian punter display some surprising quickness and elusiveness in space, but the touchdown gave the team a lot of momentum. 

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, kicker John Henson badly missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter. The score would have put Arkansas up by 10 points with less than two minutes remaining. As we know, the miss proved to be costly. 

 

Coaching

Kudos to Bielema for devising a solid plan. The fake punt call was a truly brilliant move. 

In the second half (namely the fourth quarter), the play-calling was strange. Clock management was the biggest issue on the day for the staff.

Arkansas has the identity of being a running team. Late in the fourth quarter, the team decided to throw the football. It resulted in incompletions, which ultimately gave A&M a chance to equalize. 

 

Texas A&M Aggies Game Grades Analysis

Passing Offense

Hill started the game very slowly. He went 10-of-22 for 96 yards in the first half. Arkansas did a nice job of driving the tempo way down. As a result, Hill and the offense weren't able to get into any sort of a rhythm. 

In the second half, the pace picked up considerably. Hill was able to make throws down the field to his talented receivers. Impressive touchdown throws to Edward Pope and Josh Reynolds displayed Hill's immense ability in terms of both touch and arm strength. He finished 21-of-41 for 386 yards and four touchdowns. 

 

Pass Defense

The Aggies got bitten by the play-action bug. With Arkansas running the ball so well in the first half, safeties were forced to play up closer to the line of scrimmage. The unit was burned by a big 44-yard touchdown reception to Derby. 

Safety Armani Watts in particular had a tough day. He had problems diagnosing the play on the touchdown throw and also had issues tackling the likes of Williams and Collins. 

 

Rushing Offense

Rushing for 5.1 yards per carry is a solid output against a good defensive front. Hill wasn't really involved running the football until late in the contest.

Carson looks like a very good option going forward. As a big, physical back, he helped to get tough yardage. The Oregon transfer led the team with 55 yards on eight carries. 

 

Rush Defense

Giving up 285 yards on the ground is never good. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams were giving the young defensive front fits for most of the day. Collins in particular was extremely effective, tallying 131 yards on the day.

In the second half, however, the defensive line was more effective in getting off blocks. Arkansas had 198 yards rushing in the first half but only 88 after halftime. This is a case where the statistical output doesn't necessarily tell the entire story. A&M stiffened when it needed to and made critical stops. 

 

Special Teams

Allowing the fake punt touchdown run obviously wasn't a great development. The score occurred right before halftime, giving Arkansas a ton of momentum. Curiously, the very reliable Josh Lambo missed a very makeable field goal from 40 yards. 

This wasn't the best day for the Aggies' special teams unit. 

 

Coaching

Hill was having trouble dealing with the Arkansas pressure early. The play-calling had the signal-caller exclusively sitting in the pocket. Getting him on the move could have helped to combat the Arkansas defensive line. 

In the second half, the play-calling was much better. A&M was taking shots down the field and also rolling Hill out in order to buy time to throw the ball. Defensively, A&M put the clamps down on the Arkansas rushing attack in the second half.

After allowing nearly 200 yards rushing in the first half, the Aggies allowed only 87 after the break. 

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