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Washington vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

The University of Oregon Ducks improved to 6-1 on the season with a 45-20 win over the University of Washington on Saturday night. 

Behind the arm of Marcus Mariota and the legs of freshman Royce Freeman, the Ducks piled up over 550 total yards against a very good Washington defense. 

Oregon's defense wasn't shabby, either, holding the Huskies to 317 total yards and forcing two turnovers. 

Now 3-1 in Pac-12 play, the Ducks head to the University of California next week before returning home in two weeks to host Stanford University in a game that will likely determine the Pac-12 North.

How did the Ducks fare across the board?

Here is a comprehensive look at each positional unit in Oregon's win over Washington. 

 

Oregon Ducks Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: Despite shaky pass protection, Mariota was fabulous all night. He was 24-of-33 for 336 yards and two touchdowns. Mariota consistently made big plays on third down, using his legs to set up the pass. 

Run Offense: This was all about Freeman. The true freshman ran for 169 yards and four scores, and he had several big-time runs. Byron Marshall was second on the team with 30 yards rushing, and the Ducks ran for 218 yards as a team.

Pass Defense: Washington passed for only 184 yards, many of which came when the game was already decided. The Ducks picked off Cyler Miles for his first interception of the season. Oregon consistently had a good pass rush. 

Run Defense: Washington's 133 rushing yards is a very deceiving statistic. Wide receiver John Ross had 44 of those yards on reverses. The Huskies were never able to get a ground game going, especially when the game was close. 

Special Teams: The Ducks only punted one time, and it wasn't pretty. Oregon also missed a field goal. Other than that, the Ducks did a good job of shutting down Ross in the return game. 

Coaching: Mark Helfrich, like Chip Kelly before him, is not afraid to go for it on fourth down. He did that in the red zone twice, which resulted in touchdowns both times. Offensive coordinator Scott Frost called a good game with several offensive line injuries. 

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Washington vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

The University of Oregon Ducks improved to 6-1 on the season with a 45-20 win over the University of Washington on Saturday night...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame vs. FSU: Score and Twitter Reaction

All week folks inside the Florida State program praised Jameis Winston's ability to block out the off-the-field noise once the lights come on. Saturday night the Seminoles quarterback did it again.

Winston threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns to lead a second-half comeback, and Florida State's defense held on in the waning seconds as the Seminoles stayed undefeated with a 31-27 win over Notre Dame. The Seminoles' victory gives them an NCAA-high 23 straight and moves them to 7-0 on the season, though for the second time in 2014 it came down to the wire.

And down to the wire might be an understatement. It appeared as if Notre Dame won and lost the game at multiple points. Left for dead with a 4th-and-18 inside their own territory, Everett Golson scrambled around 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage before finding a wide-open Corey Robinson to keep the game alive.

With momentum on their side and 13 seconds remaining, Golson connected with Robinson again from three yards out for what would have been the game-winning score. Only an official noticed and called an obvious offensive pass interference on the pick play for Robinson, wiping the points off the board and forcing a last-second heave that fell into the arms of Florida State defensive back Jacob Pugh. 

The waning moments were an appropriate capper for what may be the best college football game of 2014. Golson and Winston both turned in performances that will put them in their school's respective record books, including Winston's excellence on a 10-play fourth-quarter drive that culminated with a Karlos Williams touchdown to give Florida State its first and only lead of the game.

The Seminoles came into Saturday night after a week of turmoil that left Winston's playing status in question. A report from ESPN.com's Darren Rovell uncovered the reigning Heisman winner had more than 2,000 signatures authenticated by James Spence Authentication, leading to an internal investigation from Florida State that is still ongoing.

University athletic director Stan Wilcox released a statement Friday indicating that Winston would be allowed to play because there is no evidence indicating he was paid for items.

"We have no information indicating that he accepted payment for items reported to bear his signature, thereby compromising his athletics eligibility," Wilcox said, per Sean Rossman of the Tallahassee Democrat. "The fact that items appear on an Internet site bearing the signature of a student-athlete does not singularly determine a violation of NCAA rules."

The first half was fraught with the type of frustration that would make one theorize that the Seminoles were playing distracted. Notre Dame's pass rush barreled into the pocket despite sending only four rushers on most plays, leading to a series of aborted drives. Four of the Seminoles' first five offensive drives resulted in either a three-and-out or turnover, highlighted by an ugly Winston interception that led to Notre Dame's second touchdown.

Golson connected with Robinson from nine yards out, their second touchdown connection of the game, to put Notre Dame up 14-7 early in the second quarter. Golson, who needed an IV at one point to curtail cramping, completed 31 of his 52 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Winston's interception came on the first play after one from Golson that wiped away a potential scoring drive. At certain points it was Golson who was embarking on his Heisman moment.

Starting with the final meaningful drive of the first half, though, things started to click for Florida State. The Noles embarked on a 10-play, 39-yard drive that resulted in a Roberto Aguayo field goal and then opened up the second half with consecutive touchdown drives. Winston hit Rashad Greene from 10 yards out on the half's opening drive to knot the score at 17, and then Williams plunged in from two yards out to tie it again at 24 after Golson threw his third touchdown of the game.

Williams' score was one of a select few positive moments for the Florida State ground game. Williams and Dalvin Cook combined for 45 yards on 20 carries, continuing a season-long trend of frustrating rushing results. Too often in obvious run situations the Seminoles put the ball in Winston's hands and crossed their fingers that he could make it happen.

Time after time down the stretch he came through. Falling away out of the pocket with pressure coming from both angles, Winston completed a 3rd-and-2 pass on a rope for 15 yards to Greene, helping set up Williams for his second touchdown of the game and finalizing the score.

Where the first-half pressure stifled the offense in the first half, Winston thrived with defenders in his face in the second. Notre Dame began dialing up blitzes with more intensity, forcing Winston to make quick, flawless reads at the line of scrimmage. He executed without problem. Very few of Winston's throws were downfield strikes. Most were shorter or intermediate tosses meant to move the chains and allow receivers to run after the catch.

"Offensively, skill-position wise, as balanced as an offense that I've seen in a long time," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of Florida State this week, per Chance Linton of 247Sports. "I think that's really their strength in terms of across the board, great balance on offense and a really, really good quarterback. (Jameis Winston) is really good—makes good decisions, is physical, can run the ball, can make all the throws."

While Kelly was complimentary of Florida State's balance, it was actually the Irish who excelled on the ground. Tarean Folston had 120 yards on 21 carries, and Golson extended drives at multiple points by using his legs to get outside. The hollow victory here for Notre Dame is that it proved without question it deserves to be high among the one-loss teams vying for a playoff spot.

Douglas Farmer of 247Sports provides Golson comments on falling short:

As for the Seminoles, this should be the biggest test of their season. Florida State does not have a game remaining on its schedule against a ranked opponent before a potential ACC Championship Game. With three of the five games at home, odds are an Oct. 30 tilt at Louisville is all that stands between the Noles and a potential repeat.

Well, at least as long as their leader can stay on the field.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter 

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Tennessee Football: Vols' Awful Offense Wasting Defensive Revival

Tennessee's defense played well enough to upset the third-ranked Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford on Saturday night. Unfortunately for the Vols, they had to play offense, too.

The end result was like hitting the repeat button from the Florida game two weeks ago. The Vols made things difficult on the Rebels offense but ultimately fell 34-3. 

Just like against the Gators, the Vols defense played extremely well for much of the game. Just like against the Gators, the offense put its teammates in precarious predicaments with its ineptitude time and time again.

Unlike against the Gators, Ole Miss eventually broke through and broke the game open in the fourth quarter. 

Coach Butch Jones emphasized the need to go back to the drawing board, despite a good defensive effort, per a Tennessee Football tweet:

The Vols continued to overachieve on defense, but they don't have the depth there yet to stay on the field as long as they did Saturday night and still perform at a high level.

A unit that was gassed in the fourth quarter ultimately allowed an ugly number on the scoreboard, but that doesn't tell the story. 

This loss is yet again on UT's offense. The way the Vols are playing on that side of the ball, the game was already over at halftime with the Rebels ahead 14-3. Dustin Dopirak of the Knoxville News Sentinel emphasized how the dismal performance by the Vols offense negated the work of a good defense:

That porous offensive front continued to regress, and it predictably wilted against one of the best defensive fronts in the country. With the "Landsharks" swirling around, UT quarterback Justin Worley had a difficult time.

He was sacked a ridiculous seven times and mustered just 191 passing yards.

Though the offensive line deserves most of the blame, Worley struggled once again in a big game. Even when he wasn't being hit, he threw the ball like he expected to be. 

After turning the football over three times against the Gators, he repeated that feat against the Rebels. 

Worley's turnovers put the Vols in a tough spot moving forward.

Even though Worley appears to be Tennessee's best option at quarterback, the Vols need to consider putting in Joshua Dobbs or Nathan Peterman because of their mobility.

Maybe a running quarterback could get away from the inevitable pressure and open up a running game that reached a new historic low against the Rebels. Rocky Top Insider highlighted the historical significance of UT's rushing performance against Ole Miss:

If the best way to generate yardage is moving the pocket and employing a read-option offense, Worley may not be the best option. At this point, however, it seems no quarterback in the country could perform behind this line.

The Vols may not have a choice but to make a move. During the fourth quarter, Worley hurt his shoulder on what seemed like the hundredth time he'd been hit and did not return.

No matter who is playing quarterback, right now offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's unit looks unfixable—especially with a mighty Alabama team coming to Neyland Stadium next week fresh off a 59-0 win over Texas A&M.

The Vols need to at least examine a broken offensive line. Fifth-year senior Jacob Gilliam played much of the night after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the season opener. Redshirt freshman guard Austin Sanders got in the game, too, after starter Marcus Jackson sustained an injury.

The most frustrating thing about the Vols and their current 3-4 record is the fact that the only highlights the team is generating is on one side of the ball.

Defense may win championships, but it can't when it has to shut everybody out, since the offense is playing so poorly. Rocky Top Insider tweeted just how poorly UT's offense was playing on Saturday:

Defensive coordinator John Jancek's unit flew around throughout the first half, punishing Ole Miss runners and making things extremely difficult on Heisman-hopeful quarterback Bo Wallace. 

Later in the game, those fresh legs were gone.

Though the Rebels ran just 16 more plays than the Vols (78 to 62), UT's defenders were in such high-stress situations all night, it finally took its toll.

The Rebels tacked on a garbage touchdown within the final 10 seconds to make it look worse, but that didn't matter. By then, Tennessee's star defenders had long seen their strong games go for naught yet again.

The late lull didn't sit well with UT sophomore linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a sentiment echoed in his comments, courtesy of Tennessee Football:

Still, you can't pin the loss on the defense. That group is good enough to hang in games with most of the teams the Vols play, but the defenders simply can't do it by themselves. 

This year has been the exact opposite of the 2012 season under Derek Dooley, when the Vols trotted out a dynamic offense, but with a Sal Sunseri-led defense that was so poor it didn't matter.

Now, it's the offense's turn. On one hand, the Vols are extremely young and inexperienced. On the other, there has been no progress on the offensive line, and Worley is gone after this season. 

So, Tennessee has to take a long, hard look at its personnel and scheme, or the Vols will remain stuck in this endless rut it can't seem to get past. The team can take some pointers from A.J. Johnson. Vol Photos shared an on-field shot of Johnson and his tackles stat, while Tennessee Football tweeted Coach Jones' comments, highlighting his conversation with Johnson about the need for his leadership:

Though six wins seem so far away right now, the Vols can still get there. They've got winnable games against South Carolina, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky remaining on the schedule. 

But they've got to get the defense some help, or they'll be watching bowl season once again.

 

All stats taken from UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Florida Football: Time for Will Muschamp to Panic About Midseason Firing

After losing eight games last season, Florida head coach Will Muschamp was on the hot seat.

After needing triple overtime to beat Kentucky, getting outgained by 445 yards at Alabama, barely edging past Tennessee and losing to LSU, he was on the really hot seat.

But after losing 42-14 to Missouri—a team one week removed from a 34-0 home loss to Georgia—Muschamp has somehow made his bleak job outlook even bleaker. The seat on which he currently sits makes last week's seat look frigid, like an Inuit La-Z-Boy.

He is no longer just on the hot seat. He's on the so-hot-his-home-crowd-chants-loudly-for-his-firing seat:

Florida's offense was a comedy of errors against Missouri—which is to say, business as usual.

Quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris were both ineffectual in the first half, after which Florida trailed 20-0, combining for 33 passing yards on 13 attempts and turning the ball over thrice.

But things did not unravel in earnest until the third quarter, when Missouri running back Marcus Murphy returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown—his second return-for-score of the game—defensive end Markus Golden returned a Driskel fumble 21 yards for a touchdown and linebacker Darvin Ruise returned a Driskel interception 46 yards for a touchdown.

And that was just the first four possessions!

When the fusillade was over, Missouri led 42-0. Actually, to be precise: Missouri led 42-0 despite having gained just 97 yards of offense. That is one point for every 2.3 yards it had gained. 

"Some of our guys need to…look in the mirror," parried Muschamp in his postgame press conference, per David Jones of FloridaToday.com. "They need to play better."

They also need to be taught how to play.

Muschamp has failed egregiously to develop an offense since arriving in 2011—and that extends far past the quarterbacks. The running backs don't know how to run. The blockers don't know how to block. The receivers don't know how to receive.

The change of offensive coordinators from Brent Pease to Kurt Roper has done nothing. Roper was a Broyles Award finalist after helping Duke reach the ACC Championship Game last season, but even a man with a veritable miracle on his resume is no match for the deeply embedded mediocrity of this offensive depth chart.

Muschamp has allowed three classes of highly regarded prospects to become sloppy, soft, mistake-prone offensive players. He's a defensive guy, but all of this has happened on his watch.

For that, he's the one who will get blamed.

It is difficult to predict midseason firings.

Unreliable Internet persons with imaginary sources can attempt to spread reports, but the truth is that a team like Florida, which still has a chance to make a bowl game, might be better-served waiting until the end of the season to make a move.

But just last season, USC fired Lane Kiffin after a loss to Arizona State that resembled Florida's loss to Missouri in terms of ugliness. It replaced him with assistant coach Ed Orgeron, who quickly turned the Trojans' season around, salvaging a proud program's dignity.

Florida is just as proud as USC, although one could be forgiven for failing to remember that. Ron Zook was chased out of town with pitchforks for losing 14 of 37 games between 2002 and 2004.

Muschamp has lost 12 of his last 19 games.

All of this explains the fretful mood about the program, the feeling that something big might happen soon. It explains why experts such as Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports think Muschamp is about to be canned.

"I am really concerned about this football team," said Muschamp when asked about concerns for his job, per Florida reporter Morgan Moriarty.

If you're concerned about something, set it free.

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LenDale White Calls USC AD Pat Haden Coward After Being Removed from Coliseum

It's been an interesting couple of weeks for former USC Trojans running back LenDale White.

After the Trojans' close win against Arizona in Week 7, White took to Twitter criticizing USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (Warning: Tweet contains NSFW language):

Lame a-- prevent defense will do it to u eveytime [sic]. Justin Wilcox u stink. Ur play calling is absolutely f-----g horrible

On Saturday, White apparently had plans to go see the Trojans take on Colorado at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but his presence wasn't welcomed by athletic director Pat Haden. According to White's Twitter account, the AD had him escorted out of the stadium:

Inside USC tweeted the former running back's comments as he was being removed by police:

This led to yet another Twitter rant from White, as he singled out Haden:

Video has emerged of the incident: 

White's followers quickly began to respond, and one alluded to the notion that the former running back's Twitter account was hacked. It didn't take the frustrated White long to respond:

White wasn't finished expressing his disappointment with his alma mater:

It will be interesting to see where the saga goes from here.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LenDale White Calls USC AD Pat Haden Coward After Being Removed from Coliseum

It's been an interesting couple of weeks for former USC Trojans running back LenDale White. After the Trojans' close win against Arizona in Week 7, White took to Twitter criticizing ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Washington vs. Oregon: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Oregon Ducks have been a second-half team all season long, but they changed that Saturday night with a dominant first half en route to a 45-20 thrashing of Washington at Autzen Stadium.

Ducks running back Royce Freeman paved the way, rushing for four touchdowns—three in the first half—on 29 carries for 169 yards. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was efficient, going 24-of-33 for 336 yards and two scores through the air.

SportsCenter tweeted the result:

Washington took the initial lead at 3-0, but it didn't last long. Oregon scored 28 unanswered points after the first quarter, and the Huskies' two touchdowns on the day didn't come until garbage time when the Ducks' victory was all but in the bag.

Here's the final scoreline:

Oregon extended its win streak over Washington to 11 games with the victory, and USA Today's Paul Myerberg noted the statistical difference in those contests:

Coming into this game, Oregon hoped to continue the success up front on offense it found a week before against UCLA—allowing no sacks. The return of left tackle Jake Fisher on Mariota's blind side was a big reason why.

"Jake, he’s the type of guy that there’s not a lot of communication that needs to be said," offensive lineman Hroniss Grasu told Daily Emerald's Justin Wise. “Not a lot of verbal communication needs to be done. We know what’s going to happen next. We always anticipate the next call and we’re always on the same page.”

That was evident very early on in Saturday's game.

The Huskies struck first on a 33-yard field goal from Cameron Van Winkle, but Oregon was quick to take the lead for good right after. A seven-play, 81-yard drive went 44 yards on the ground, 37 of which came on a Freeman touchdown run to make things 7-3.

Fisher's impact on the offense was obvious, as 750 The Game's Fletcher Johnson observed:

Washington continued to find success moving the ball on the very next drive, taking it down the field and kicking another field goal. But the Ducks were set on touchdowns, and they didn't mind going on long drives to get them.

A 17-play, 81-yard drive ended with Freeman breaking into the end zone on 4th-and-goal from three yards out, and after a Washington punt, the Ducks went down the field again. This time, it was a 12-play, 99-yard drive that started on their own 1-yard line.

But as ESPN's Kevin Pelton said, flipping the field position does little to stifle Oregon:

With a 21-6 lead achieved primarily through ground-and-pound success, Oregon's running dominance was on display early, as SB Nation's Dan Rubenstein noticed:

Although Oregon was taking control of the game at 21-6, ESPN's David Lombardi admitted it could have been an even bigger hole for Washington:

It indeed did get worse for the Huskies soon after. Taking a stranglehold of the game, Oregon intercepted a pass from Washington's Cyler Miles and scored on a 23-yard toss from Mariota to Byron Marshall two plays later.

The Huskies' deficit had grown to 22 points by the time the first-half bell sounded. But despite running the ball so well, Oregon's offensive line continued to get banged up as Hamani Stevens limped off.

Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval responded accordingly:

Without another key offensive lineman, Oregon's offense didn't seem to miss a beat. Freeman ran it on six of the Ducks' nine plays to open up the second half, putting Mariota in position to set up the highlight of the day in the passing game.

That came via an insane catch from Dwayne Stanford on a 16-yard touchdown that made it 35-6, and Sporting News captured Stanford high-pointing the ball:

It was like seeing Oregon's offense continue rolling in the second half woke up Washington's offense. Quieted for much of the contest, the Huskies drove down the field and made it 35-13 on a Miles touchdown pass to Deontae Cooper.

The Huskies would add a second touchdown in the fourth quarter before it was all said and done, but they stood no chance with the Ducks matching every touchdown they scored. Freeman scored his fourth touchdown of the day early in the fourth to make it 42-13, before Washington's Troy Williams ran it in from seven yards out with 5:22 left.

An Oregon chip-shot field goal with 1:20 remaining seemed to do nothing but add to the scoreline, but the fans receiving some free food won't complain, per The Seattle Times' Percy Allen:

After seeing its hopes of an undefeated season vanish against Arizona on Oct. 2, the Ducks have now looked solid in back-to-back weeks coming off a 42-30 victory over UCLA. What's more, only two ranked foes—No. 23 Stanford and No. 20 Utah—remain on the schedule.

Up next for Oregon is a week of short rest. A trip to face California on Friday looms, and the Ducks will be set on making sure they don't have a repeat performance of the Thursday night debacle against Arizona. 

Washington could have gotten into a tie for the top of the Pac-12 North with a win, but instead it drops to 1-2 in conference play and 5-2 on the year. A meeting against No. 17 Arizona State is coming next week, and another loss would mark the Huskies' third defeat in four games after starting 4-0.

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Who Will Emerge from the SEC West 'Group of Death'?

The SEC West continues to prove that it is the best conference in college football. With only four spots in the College Football Playoff, the question becomes how many teams will be able to make that playoff out of the toughest conference?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder offers his insights into how the SEC West will shake out.

Who emerges from the SEC West?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Winners and Losers from Week 8 of College Football

Just when you think you have it all figured out, college football comes in and shakes up all preconceived notions. 

That's what happens when a sport is played by 18-to-23-year-olds. You're never really sure what you're going to get each week. 

Week 8 started off with a bang with both Baylor and Oklahoma falling to West Virginia and Kansas State, respectively. 

From Alabama's shutout over Texas A&M to another embarrassing loss for Florida, we get you caught up on today's busy slate of games.  

As you can see, Winners and Losers is up before the day is over. Don't worry, as this post will be updated throughout the rest of the evening as events warrant. 

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

Begin Slideshow

USC QB Cody Kessler Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 8

Cody Kessler , have yourself a day. The junior signal-caller dominated this week, throwing for seven touchdowns and 319 yards passing in the Trojans' 56-28 win over the Colorado Buffaloes, earning this week's Lexus Top Performer...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

USC QB Cody Kessler Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 8

Cody Kessler, have yourself a day. The junior signal-caller dominated this week, throwing for seven touchdowns and 319 yards passing in the Trojans' 56-28 win over the Colorado Buffaloes, earning this week's Lexus Top Performer.

Can Kessler keep this up?

Watch the video and let us know!  

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Cody Kessler's Record-Setting Day Fuel Trojans' Pac-12 Title Hopes?

LOS ANGELES—USC head coach Steve Sarkisian challenged quarterback Cody Kessler to open up the No. 22-ranked Trojans’ passing attack heading into Saturday’s 56-28 win over Colorado at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Kessler responded resoundingly, throwing five of his program-record seven touchdowns in the first half.

"[Quarterbacks] coach [and offensive coordinator Clay] Helton and I coach this guy harder than any other guy on the team," Sarkisian said of Kessler. "He comes to work every day with a mindset to get better."

It doesn't get any better than throwing more touchdowns in a game than anyone in Trojans history, including Heisman Trophy winners like Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

Kessler credited his former teammate and previous record-holder Matt Barkley both in the postgame press conference and via Twitter.

Barkley threw six touchdown passes four times in his career.   

As Kessler approached the mark in the third quarter, running back Javorius "Buck" Allen described an atmosphere like that of a baseball dugout when a pitcher is approaching a no-hitter.

"I didn't want to mess his groove up," Allen said. "I just wanted him to stay in the zone and do what [does]."

His teammates may not have chimed in, but Kessler said he "would be lying" if he claimed he didn't realize he was marching toward history.

Kessler surpassed past USC greats with his showing and, in the process, took a step toward matching another achievement predecessors like Palmer and Leinart reached: winning a conference championship.

The Trojans added to their Pac-12 South-leading tally in the win column, improving to 4-1 in the league. With the more balanced offense it demonstrated against Colorado, USC is better equipped to compete for its first league championship since 2008.

Efforts like the Trojans wide receivers put forth Saturday won't hurt in that pursuit, either.

Kessler's record-setter came on Steven Mitchell’s lay-out grab of a 24-yard laser beam Kessler fired on the move. However, the record-tying strike he threw to wide receiver Nelson Agholor earlier in the third quarter fulfilled a point of emphasis Sarkisian set for his team heading into the week: increasing explosive plays with more downfield passes.

It didn't get much more explosive than Kessler's 75-yard bomb to Agholor, the receiver's personal best third score of the afternoon.

Agholor scored on previous passes of 16 and 18 yards.

The chemistry brewing between the two continues to develop each week and will be a bedrock of the passing game for the remainder of the season.

But perhaps the more meaningful development for USC’s immediate future was Kessler’s connection with John “JuJu” Smith.

Smith set the tone for the day when he snagged a diving catch on USC's opening drive, the first of four catches for 104 yards all made in the first half. One was also his first career touchdown.

"It feels good, man," Smith said. "I was hoping to score this week."

With touchdown No. 1 under his belt, Smith looks ready to break out as a key contributor in the USC offense for the remaining Pac-12 push.  

The Trojans receiving corps has lacked a consistent No. 2 to complement Agholor thus far into the season, but Smith provided the combination attack USC needs to keep defenses back on their heels in the home stretch.

"JuJu's been battling a bad thumb. For him to make a one-handed catch with a bad hand...I think the team appreciates guys fighting through [injuries]," Sarkisian said.

Smith also emerged as the potential deep-ball threat USC has sought for much of the season. He averaged 26 yards on his four receptions, which was vital to Kessler making good on the explosive play pursuit.

With a key date in the Pac-12 South race looming—next week’s visit to No. 20 Utah—USC came out with the kind of focus it will need to take control of the division.

"We're getting better by each game," Smith said.

 

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

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Will Cody Kessler's Record-Setting Day Fuel Trojans' Pac-12 Title Hopes?

LOS ANGELES—USC head coach Steve Sarkisian challenged quarterback Cody Kessler to open up the No. 22-ranked Trojans’ passing attack heading into Saturday’s 56-28 win over Colorado at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tennessee vs. Ole Miss: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Tennessee Volunteers made a game of it early, but in the end, No. 3 Ole Miss was simply too much to handle. The Rebels emerged victorious by a score of 34-3.

While Ole Miss came away with yet another win, the Volunteers' all-around effort should be commended.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace didn't start out in a very efficient manner. His team went through the entire first quarter without putting a single point on the board, as all five drives ended abruptly with Will Gleeson punts.

Wallace's season has been a roller-coaster ride up to this point. Upon the conclusion of the first quarter, ESPN SEC tweeted the quarterback's poor numbers along with an ominous question:

Luckily for the home team, Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley was even more ineffective. He found himself under duress and was forced to scramble out of the pocket quite often. One instance in particular resulted in a very bad decision by Worley, which led to a Mike Hilton interception.

Bleacher Report's Tennessee Twitter account posted a video of the pick:

An uneventful first quarter ended without any points on the board. That changed rather quickly.

The second quarter began with three consecutive Worley completions. Due to a sack by Denzel Nkemdiche, those passes didn't net enough yards for a first down, and Tennessee had to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Aaron Medley.

Despite the lack of a touchdown, the Volunteers suddenly found themselves on top of the nation's third-ranked team. Chris Low of ESPN.com tweeted his thoughts at this point in the game:

Wallace and Worley continued their inability to run their respective offenses, trading several punts until the Ole Miss signal-caller finally caught lightning in a bottle.

After a big 28-yard completion to Vince Sanders, Wallace hit his receiver once more by dropping an absolute dime for a 39-yard touchdown strike. Ole Miss Football tweeted the impressive pass:

It took quite a while, but Ole Miss finally earned its first lead of the game. On the ensuing drive, Worley helped the Rebels increase that lead, as he threw his second interception of the game. This time, Senquez Golson snagged the pass, which resulted in an impressive season statistic, via ESPN SEC:

The Rebels took advantage of the great field position following the pick, and Jaylen Walton found paydirt from seven yards out. College GameDay tweeted a video of the run:

Ole Miss tried to get three more points on the board before the half, but a 52-yard field-goal attempt by Gary Wunderlich didn't find its mark as time expired. Entering the break, the Rebels led the Volunteers 14-3 in a defensive struggle.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a telling stat regarding the Rebels' ineffective offense through two quarters:

Following the break, things didn't get much easier for either offense. Quarterback pressures continued to trend, as both Wallace and Worley were sacked, hit and hurried many times over the next several drives. One hurry had devastating results for Tennessee. Worley was flushed from the pocket, made another poor decision and was picked off by Golson for the second time on Saturday.

Ole Miss Football tweeted a video of the play:

That pick gave Golson seven on the season and extended his lead over the rest of the nation. Ole Miss reporter Kyle Cole tweeted his comical take on the defensive back:

Turnovers continued to plague the Volunteers later in the third quarter. Following a Wunderlich 34-yard field goal, the ensuing kickoff was fumbled by the Vols' Evan Berry and recovered by Marquis Haynes at the Tennessee 28-yard line.

As he's done so often this season, Wallace needed just one play to make another huge impact on the game. This time, he found Evan Engram in the corner of the end zone, and the wide receiver came down with a great catch to secure the touchdown.

Take a listen to the call, courtesy of play-by-play radio announcer David Kellum:

With a nice lead, Ole Miss began the fourth quarter looking to take some time off the clock. Wallace displayed his ability to create yards with his feet and his arm, completing two passes and rushing four times on the way to a field goal. The drive was 14 plays long and lasted just shy of seven minutes.

Worley returned to the field, but the Ole Miss pressure was relentless. This prompted Grantland's Holly Anderson to tweet her take on the punishment taken by the quarterback:

The Ole Miss offense returned to the field for one more drive and had every intention of running down the game clock. After four Jordan Wilkins carries and another three from DeVante Kincade, Mark Dodson punched in the final score of the game from eight yards out.

ESPN tweeted the game's final score along with Dodson's touchdown run:

The last-second touchdown run was met with some displeasure across social media sites, but according to Brandon Speck of the Daily Journal, coach Hugh Freeze didn't expect his team to score:

After 60 minutes of action, ESPN Stats & Info tweeted a great achievement for the Rebels and a not-so-great stat for the Volunteers:

Despite the loss, this young Tennessee team has plenty of positive takeaways from Saturday's game. The Volunteers defense put on an impressive showing against one of the nation's powerhouse teams. Worley certainly isn't the answer at quarterback, but young playmakers such as freshmen Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone will be around for quite some time.

Volunteers coach Butch Jones spoke about how this experience will improve his young team in the long run, via Danny Parker of Scout.com:

The coach also expressed his admiration for Tennessee's football program, via Volquest Staff:

Tennessee doesn't have the easiest schedule remaining this season. But following its Week 8 contest against Alabama, games against South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt provide a reasonable chance to claim bowl eligibility.

The Rebels didn't look as solid as they should have on Saturday—especially in a home contest. Yet despite some offensive struggles, the team remained in control of the game throughout. Even though it is a very good defensive team, Ole Miss will need more consistent production to continue its undefeated run this season.

A difficult schedule remains for the Rebels. Games against LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State loom large, and better play from Wallace will be essential to winning those contests. If the quarterback can find his consistency, this team could very well prove to be one of the best in the nation.

College Football Playoff aspirations are still alive and well for this Ole Miss team that should most certainly retain the No. 3 ranking for at least one more week.

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Ohio State Re-Establishing Itself as Big Ten's Best Team

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer wasn't ready to make a statement. At least not yet.

Asked if his team had made a statement with its fourth consecutive blowout victory in which it had scored at least 50 points, the Ohio State head coach declined to accept the premise. But that didn't prevent him from stating his belief that the Buckeyes are a Top 10 team or from setting the table for next week's prime-time showdown with Penn State.

"I think we are," Meyer answered when asked if Ohio State is a team deserving of a top 10 ranking following its 56-17 win over Rutgers on Saturday. "Next week we all know what's coming down the barrel, prime-time game, in a stadium with 110,000 people. That's going to be a great evaluator."

And while Meyer's right in believing that the Buckeyes have more credibility to gain by heading to Happy Valley and walking away with a win, what Ohio State has done in the six weeks since its Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech hasn't gone unnoticed.

With an offense that ranks as one of the best in the country and a defense that's vastly improved, the Buckeyes are firmly entrenched in the hunt for the first-ever College Football Playoff and appear to be the Big Ten's best heading into the second half of the season.

"Someone will blog it out and say, 'Here's Coach Meyer ranting and raving again.' I'm not. I don't really watch the other teams," Meyer said. "But I think we're playing at a pretty high level right now."

The numbers certainly back up the sentiment, with Ohio State averaging 56 points and 614 yards per game in its four contests since its defeat at the hands of the Hokies. Even if you throw out their 66-0 thrashing of Kent State on Sept. 13, the Buckeyes have still averaged 52.6 points 609.3 yards in their last three games, dominating outings that were each decided by the start of their respective fourth quarters.

Of course, a big part of Ohio State's resurgence has been the emergence of quarterback J.T. Barrett, an unlikely Heisman Trophy candidate who was thrust into the starting lineup two weeks prior to the start of the season. But in filling in for two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller, Barrett has blossomed, totaling 1,998 yards of total offense and 24 touchdowns through the first six games of his redshirt freshman campaign.

Even with Miller wearing a sling on the sideline, the Buckeyes have managed to possess the Big Ten's top quarterback, with Barrett leading the league in total offense and passing touchdowns despite Ohio State having already endured two bye weeks. His 9-of-29 outing against Virginia Tech remains a blemish on his debut season, but it can't be understated how vital Barrett's play has been in the Buckeyes bouncing back

"Back then, Week 2, it was just not being as prepared as I should have been," Barrett said "Now I'm just learning from that and just trying to get better."

Barrett has clearly done that, as evidenced by his 368-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Scarlet Knights on Saturday. Heisman hype once thought to be a fantasy is now turning into a reality, but the Wichita, Texas, native isn't letting his individual success get to his head.

"I don't talk about it," Barrett said. "Is it cool? Yeah. But I've got other things to focus on and that's this team and getting our offense ready to go each and every week so that we really play well against every team we play. Individual goals, I've never thought about that as far as Heisman or anything like that.

"My head coach back in high school was definitely big on that. He was like, 'If you take care of what the team does, your success individually will come along.' That's great, but my focus is definitely on the team and team wins."

With nine receivers catching balls from Barrett against Rutgers, the OSU offense managed to maintain its momentum through the Buckeyes' second bye in the past four weeks, as did a defense that's still finding its footing under new defensive coordinator Chris Ash.

Limiting quarterback Gary Nova to 192 passing yards and the Scarlet Knights to 345 total yards, the unit formerly known as the "Silver Bullets" continued on its upward trend, earning praise from Meyer in the process.

"You can take the first half and that's a credit to our defense," Meyer said. "They took a team that threw 400-plus yards against our rivals and really played well, creating turnovers once again and getting the ball to the offense rather quickly."

That's a pattern that the Buckeyes will need to continue to develop, especially as they appear to be on a collision course for a Nov. 8 matchup with Michigan State that should decide the Big Ten's East Division champion. And if Ohio State can win that, en route to securing the conference crown, a playoff spot could very well be waiting for a team that looks to be light years ahead of where it was six weeks ago.

"We kind of figured ourselves out," running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "We kind of have an identity now. The line play's gotten a lot better and everybody's clicking."

But while eyeballs in Columbus find themselves wandering toward a potential playoff appearance, Meyer maintains that his team is focused on the task at hand. Whether that's the truth or simply coach speak remains to be seen, but Ohio State's best football could still be ahead of the Buckeyes—which could make for bad news for the rest of the Big Ten.

"When you watch the film, we could actually have played a lot better in certain situations," Meyer said. "The good thing is that I don't feel like there's a complacent attitude. Complacency is awful in this business."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Watch USC True Freshman WR JuJu Smith Lay Out for Insane 1-Handed Catch

One big highlight from USC's drubbing of Colorado was true freshman WR JuJu Smith's ridiculous one-handed grab. 

The wideout caught four passes for 104 yards as the Trojans rolled over the Buffaloes, 56-28.

Was this catch the best of Week 8?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Nebraska QB Catches Wide-Open TD on Trick Play vs. Northwestern

Nebraska receiver De'Mornay Pierson-El entered Saturday night's game against Northwestern with just one career touchdown catch. The freshman wideout has now thrown for as many touchdowns as he has caught.

The Cornhuskers broke out a trick play late in the first half against the Wildcats, as Pierson-El took the reverse and found quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. all alone for an easy score.

Armstrong Jr. now has a passing touchdown, rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown this season. 

[SB Nation]

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Should Kevin Sumlin Re-Open Texas A&M QB Competition After Blowout Loss to Bama?

Texas A&M played one of the worst games it has ever played on Saturday, getting outgained by 430 yards (and at one point trailing 560 yards to 50) in a 59-0 loss at Alabama.

The final score wasn't as ugly, but the performance—especially for the first 30 minutes—was every bit as listless as that of "Oklahoma 77, Texas A&M 0," the shameful nadir of the Dennis Franchione era that took place in 2003.

Most concerning of the many concerning performances was that of quarterback Kenny Hill, who took five sacks and completed 17 of 26 passes for 138 yards, no touchdowns and one interception (which easily could have been three if not for drops).

Three weeks ago, Texas A&M was ranked No. 6 in the country, and Hill was considered a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. But now? He's the first Kevin Sumlin-coached quarterback to ever fail to score in a game—a significant fact highlighed by Yahoo Sports' Dr. Saturday:

All of which begs the question: Should Sumlin re-evaluate the position, giving true freshman Kyle Allen a chance to start?

He was not entirely dismissive of the idea in his postgame press conference, saying "I don't know about that," when asked if the QB competition would be re-opened, per Kate Hairopoulos of The Dallas Morning News.

Allen was the No. 10 overall player and top-ranked quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class, per the 247Sports composite rankings. He was thought to have a real chance at winning the position before Hill was named the starter during fall camp.

And now might be the time to see what he's got.

Why? Because what does Texas A&M have to lose?

It is heading into a bye week—the perfect chance to integrate a new starting quarterback—and has no chance of competing to win the SEC West. It is not at risk of missing a bowl game (for which it will become eligible when it beats Louisiana-Monroe in two weeks), which means the bottom can't fall too far. The team is at a crossroads, sure, but the risk associated with subbing-in Allen would be manageable.

The Aggies also have Kyler Murray, a 5-star dual-threat quarterback and the No. 27 overall prospect in the 2015 class, committed to join the team next season. His presence makes letting Allen play this year even more imperative. The more information they have on Allen as a potential future-of-the-program-type quarterback, the sounder their decisions will be in 2015, 2016 and beyond (and vice versa).

The only glaring downside to letting Allen play is the effect it will have on Hill, whose body of work this year does not suggest a player who needs to be benched. If he's yanked for a true freshman and knows another blue-chip kid is coming in next year, he might resign himself to his fate and consider looking at other schools.

For obvious reasons, that would be suboptimal.

Hill is only a sophomore, and the ceiling on his game is manifest. He was not the only thing wrong with Texas A&M's offense against the Alabama Crimson Tide, whose defense dominated the line of scrimmage and played tight coverage.

More often that not, Hill had no time to scan the field and nowhere to throw the football. He was not put in a position to succeed.

Still, the Hill who teased Aggies fans in September was good enough to conjure success out of any position.

The "Kenny Trill" version of A&M's sophomore quarterback—the one who blitzkrieged South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium in Week 1 and led a manic comeback to beat Arkansas in Week 5—would have strung at least a few positive plays together. He would have prodded and poked until he found at least one pocket of space.

He would not have been content with…well, this:

The man who preceded Hill, Johnny Manziel, played two of the four best games of his career against Alabama, leading an upset of the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide during his Heisman Trophy season in 2012 and posting 562 yards of total offense in a 49-42 loss last year.

It's unfair to compare Hill with a singular talent like Manziel, but the comparison does deserve mention after what happened Saturday.

And Hill played like no Johnny Football. 

Allen might be better. He might be worse. He might be exactly the same. And Hill might be a whole lot better than he's looked the past three weeks. A lot of quarterbacks have struggled against the Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama defenses. (And a lot of those quarterbacks have not had to play them consecutively.)

But the Aggies cannot—in Sumlin's own words, per the Houston Chronicle's Brent Zwerneman—"stick their heads in the sand" after a loss this historically lopsided. They need to find a way to right the ship, both now and for the next few seasons.

Who knows what Allen might do if he's given the keys to the offense?

That, I suppose, is the point.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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College Football Must Beware the Rising Tide

It sounds strange to say that teams should be wary of an Alabama team, as if they weren't already. 

This is still Nick Saban's Crimson Tide of three BCS titles in the last five years. It is still a modern-day college football dynasty.  

This is also the crazy, fickle world of college football where Mississippi State is No. 1 and Top 10 teams seem to lose as much as they win. In this world, Alabama could be considered an underdog in the SEC West. 

At its best, Alabama is still a team that will eat you, chew you up and spit you out on defense and break your back on offense. At its worst it looks beatable.

The Tide were at their best on Saturday. It wasn't just that the Tide beat the Aggies; it was how they beat them. The 59-0 victory was classic bully stuff—dominating and demoralizing, just how Nick Saban likes it.

The way everything is shaking out—how Alabama is improving, how schedules are organized, the chaotic nature of this season—is setting up perfectly for the Tide to make a run to the College Football Playoff.

Every question that faced the Alabama football team after a loss to Ole Miss and an uninspiring, one-point win over Arkansas was answered emphatically Saturday.

Blake Sims needs to get back in a rhythm? How about 268 yards, three passing touchdowns and this thrown in for good measure?

The offensive line hasn’t dominated anybody all year? How about 226 first-half rushing yards and 298 total?

The pass defense looks vulnerable? How about 51 first-half passing yards and 141 total against the SEC’s best passing team?

The team isn’t playing with emotion? Too tight? Not having any fun? How about players mobbing Reuben Foster after a kickoff-coverage tackle? And…this:

On Saturday, the Crimson Tide offense looked like it did the first four weeks of the season—an efficient attack that took what the defense gave it and hit big plays to build momentum.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper was once again the focal point, going for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Sims did what he does best. Outside of an early goal-line throw that could have been taken to the house the other way, he took care of the ball, made plays with his legs when he had to and was out of the game early in the third quarter.

Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was creative in his play-calling, getting running back T.J. Yeldon the ball on the ground and through the air to keep the Texas A&M defense on its heels all game.

But the most encouraging sign from the offense was the way it dominated at the point of attack in the run game. Yeldon and Derrick Henry had massive holes to run through, with the pair averaging eight yards per carry.

On defense, Alabama easily turned in its most dominant performance of the season and showed the potential it has against the SEC’s most prolific offense.

It started up front with a pass rush that generated six sacks and even more pressure.

Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill never had a chance. He finished the day 17-of-26 passing, with just 138 yards and an interception. Hill was pulled late in the game for freshman Kyle Allen.

Texas A&M had just 51 yards of offense at halftime. By that time, the game was well out of hand.

Alabama’s secondary has taken a lot of heat in the first half of the season, oftentimes for good reason. But it very much rose to the occasion on Saturday.

And, hey, the special teams hit a field goal and didn’t fumble a kick or punt return. Saban praised his players for their performance, per a tweet from Marquavius Burnett of The Anniston Star:

Things are shaping up for a run at a fourth national title in six years for the Crimson Tide.

The SEC West will likely have four teams in the The Associated Press Top Five on Sunday, and Alabama still gets to play two of them. The third, of course, is Ole Miss. The Rebels gave Alabama its only loss so far, but they still have a tough row to hoe the rest of the year. Two losses for Ole Miss (which would put Alabama back in the lead for the SEC West) look very possible.

If Alabama wins out—regardless of what happens to Ole Miss—it will have a very compelling case to be one of the top four teams in the country.

Alabama’s schedule works out for that to happen since it gets both Mississippi State and Auburn at home. And that road trip to LSU now looks very manageable.

If Alabama plays like it did against Texas A&M, it is the best team in the country, without question. The Tide took a massive step forward Saturday in all aspects of the game. That kind of improvement will make Nick Saban a very happy head coach Saturday night.

But it will be back to work on Monday, where Saban will push his team even harder, as he’d want to do after a big win.

This is a team very much on the rise. And it's one that is primed to make a whole lot of noise in the final weeks of the season.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. Stats come from cfbstats.com.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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