Feed aggregator

Clemson vs. Wake Forest: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers

Although it was nervy for a while, the No. 21 Clemson Tigers were able to pull out the victory on the road against a feisty Wake Forest team by a score of 34-20. 

The Tigers outgained the Demon Deacons 427 to 119 in terms of total offense. Signal-caller Cole Stoudt threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns on the evening. Running back Wayne Gallman chipped in with 106 yards on the ground, including one rushing touchdown and a receiving score. 

Dave Clawson's team put up a valiant effort in the loss. Undermanned, the Demon Deacons went toe-to-toe with the Tigers for three quarters—until Clemson pulled away in the fourth quarter. 

A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. Check out first-half grades and final grades for the Clemson Tigers. Additional analysis for position units will also be addressed. 

Clemson Tigers Analysis

Passing Offense

In the first half, Clemson didn't look to attack down the field very often. Credit Wake Forest for applying some pressure on Stoudt. However, in the second half, Clemson's signal-caller was very effective. He finished with 282 yards passing and three touchdowns. 

Stoudt began to spread the ball around efficiently to his talented receiver corps. Eight Clemson receivers caught passes on the night. Artavis Scott in particular was explosive. The freshman led the team with eight receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns. 

 

Pass Defense

Clemson was fooled on a trick play early in the first quarter. However, the Tigers challenged the Wake Forest receivers at the line of scrimmage—daring Wake quarterback John Wolford to beat Clemson deep. On the night, Wake Forest's longest pass play went for 24 yards—and it was on the reception to Wolford from receiver Jared Crump.

Clemson held Wake Forest to 112 passing yards on 30 attempts. This is an outstanding and highly productive effort. 

 

Rushing Offense

Wake Forest did a very good job of bottling up Clemson's rushing efforts in the first half. The Tigers rushed for only 26 yards. Staying true to their usual form this year, Clemson ran the ball much better in the second half. 

Gallman finished with 106 yards on 19 carries. The team as a whole rushed for 145 yards on 37 carries. While it wasn't a banner evening, the offense got much-needed balance in the second portion of the game. 

 

Run Defense

Wake Forest entered the game as the nation's worst team running the football. On average, the Demon Deacons rush for 34.5 yards a game. In the first quarter alone, the team piled up 30 yards. Wake was actually getting a decent push against Clemson's vaunted defensive front. 

However, this quickly subsided. Pressure up front from Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley (among others) offered little time for the ground game to get its legs going. The negative plays (via sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage) crippled the Demon Deacons' rushing attack. 

For the night, Wake rushed for seven yards on 34 carries. 

 

Special Teams

The muffed punt by Adam Humphries was poor. He should have let the punt go over his head, as opposed to battling a wind gust for the ball. It was exacerbated even further, as Wake Forest ended up scoring a touchdown off of the turnover. 

Kicker Ammon Lakip was solid on the evening, as he connected on both of his field-goal attempts.  

 

Coaching

The staff didn't utilize the considerable speed advantage it had on offense. Early on, there really wasn't much of an effort to test Wake Forest deep, nor was there an attempt to get the receivers in space. However, the third-down screen pass in the second quarter to Gallman for a touchdown was a very nice play call by offensive coordinator Chad Morris.

Defensively, Clemson stood steadfast in its plan to press the Demon Deacons at the line of scrimmage—while rarely mixing things up coverage-wise. 

In the second half, Morris made much more of a concerted effort to find balance on offense. By beginning to run the football with effectiveness, it opened up the passing game. The receivers were lined up in different spots, and the Tigers were able to exploit some mismatches on the perimeter.

Defensively, Brent Venables did a nice job of becoming more diverse in his coverage calls. This helped to confused Wake Forest's inexperienced offense. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: X-Factors for the Buckeyes Against the Spartans

Urban Meyer and the Ohio State football team have had 11 months to linger on the devastating and gut-wrenching upset loss they suffered to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game last December.

This Saturday, the Buckeyes will finally get a chance at redemption when they hit the road for a prime-time matchup against the Spartans in East Lansing.

The game has huge implications for not only the Big Ten as a conference, but for the landscape of college football's first-ever playoff. Ohio State and Michigan State represent the league's best chance of making the highly anticipated postseason, and Saturday's showdown will be a pivotal moment for the conference as a whole.

Will the 14th-ranked Buckeyes get the resume-boosting win they desperately need, or will the Spartans prove themselves as the class of the Big Ten once again? Mark Dantonio's squad opened as two-point favorites early this week, but the line has jumped to 3.5, according to Odds Shark

Michigan State is getting the benefit of the doubt thanks to a home-field advantage that will certainly have an impact on a young Ohio State team. That's one of the components working in Dantonio's favor, so the Buckeyes will need to overcome a hostile road environment with some X-factors of their own.

Because when looking at these teams, it's easy to see how even they really are.

 

Mirror Images?

Dantonio and Meyer have been successful in building Big Ten juggernauts—but they reached that pinnacle from two very different paths. 

It took a few years for the Spartans to find their groove under Dantonio, going 22-17 in his first three seasons with the program (2007-09). But since 2010, Michigan State has averaged 10.5 wins per year—relying on a consistently good defense and efficient offenses led by quarterbacks such as Kirk Cousins.

Ohio State has thrived under Meyer, losing just three of its 34 games since the start of the 2012 season. The Buckeyes have buried a majority of their competition behind the strength of one of the nation's most productive offenses, but defense has been a consistent issue.

Even though both teams dropped Week 2 matchups against nonconference opponents, Michigan State and Ohio State have taken their games to another level. The Spartans offense is producing at the highest level of the Dantonio era, and the Buckeyes defense is surging under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash.

That improvement will pin two evenly matched teams against each other this Saturday.

What will Ohio State have to do to overcome such a strong opponent on the road?

 

When Ohio State's on Offense

Meyer's top priority on Saturday night should be getting J.T. Barrett settled into the game, because the young signal-caller struggled mightily the last time he was on the road. Against Penn state in a prime-time matchup in Happy Valley two weeks ago, Barrett threw for a season-low 74 yards and tossed two costly interceptions in a seven-point double-overtime victory.

Some of those struggles can be tied to Ohio State's conservative play-calling. As the Nittany Lions rallied, Meyer and the Ohio State coaching staff buttoned things up, leaning on Ezekiel Elliott and an improving rushing attack. But Meyer knows a similar game plan won't get it done against the Spartans.

"To win this game... We'll have to open up a little bit," Meyer said on Thursday, according to DJ Byrnes of Eleven Warriors

That means Ohio State's pass-catchers will have to step up. 

During the Big Ten title game last year, senior Corey "Philly" Brown hauled in five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. The rest of Ohio State's receivers and tight ends combined for just two catches (one each from Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman) for 47 yards.

Barrett has been incredible at distributing the ball this season, as Ohio State has eight different pass-catchers with more than 100 receiving yards. Sophomore Michael Thomas and senior Devin Smith, who have combined for 882 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, lead the way for the Buckeyes.

“We’re going to be ready. We know we have a great game plan coming in," Smith said, according to Eric Seger of The Ozone. "We’re going to come in (Thursday), finalize everything and just go out there Saturday and just try to be productive.” 

They'll have to be ready to overcome a challenge, because Michigan State and its eighth-ranked passing efficiency defense await.

 

When Ohio State's on Defense

When these two teams last met, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook gashed Ohio State's beleaguered secondary with 304 passing yards and three touchdowns. 

That was against a unit that finished the year ranking 110th nationally defending the pass. That inefficiency prompted Meyer to make a change, which brought Ash from Arkansas to join Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes defensive staff.

With a more aggressive scheme, the Buckeyes have been much better defensively—especially against the pass. Ohio State ranks 18th in passing efficiency defense, 13th in passing yards allowed and is tied for seventh nationally in interceptions.

But a strong defensive line—fueled by super sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa—is helping Ohio State's young but promising secondary.

Bosa ranks fifth in the country in sacks per game and is tied for third in tackles for loss, which leads the Big Ten in both categories. He is Ohio State's most disruptive defender by a wide margin, and he'll need to be at his best against the Spartans Saturday night.

Michigan State knows the challenge Bosa presents.

"He's a great player," Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin said, according to Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News. "You see him this season and last season, he bounces around a lot so the whole line is going to have to be ready to play against him."

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson vs. Wake Forest: Score and Twitter Reaction

The No. 21 Clemson Tigers got all they could handle from a game with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons squad before leaving Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with a 34-20 victory Thursday night.

Wake Forest entered the game winless in the ACC and a heavy underdog, even playing at home. However, midweek games have been crazy all year, and some of that magic rubbed off on the Demon Deacons.

Despite being outgained 427-119, Wake Forest remained tied with the Tigers in the fourth quarter until the Clemson offense simply became too much. The home team couldn't keep pace with the Tigers' array of weapons.

Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt started a bit slowly but improved as the game went on, finishing 27-of-42 for 282 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. His favorite receiver was Artavis Scott, who led the team with eight receptions, 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back Wayne Gallman chipped in 106 yards and a touchdown on the ground in addition to 43 yards receiving and another TD.

Compare that to Wake's leading offensive stars.

Quarterback John Wolford went for 88 yards and two touchdowns on 11-of-29 passing. Both TDs went to tight end Cam Serigne, who was Wake's leading receiver with 34 yards on three receptions. Running back Dezmond Wortham could only grind out 30 yards on eight carries.

By the numbers alone, Clemson dominated the game from start to finish. But the numbers only tell half the story.

The Tigers were by far the better team in the first half but shot themselves in the foot on two occasions with turnovers. As a result, Wake Forest headed into halftime tied with the Tigers, 17-17.

The Demon Deacons grabbed a 7-0 lead in the first quarter after Wolford hit Serigne for a four-yard touchdown pass. Wake Forest had a short field after cornerback Kevin Johnson intercepted Stoudt and returned the ball to the Clemson 43-yard line.

Clemson247 felt the turnover was more proof as to injured QB Deshaun Watson's importance to the offense:

In the second quarter, Stoudt made up for his mistake. After an Ammon Lakip field goal closed Clemson's gap to four points, 7-3, the senior quarterback found Gallman for an 18-yard touchdown pass to hand his team a 10-7 lead.

Here's a look, via Clemson Athletics:

The turnover bug bit the Tigers just one drive later, however. After a pass-interference penalty gave Wake Forest an automatic first down, the Clemson defense held strong and forced the Demon Deacons to punt. Tigers return man Adam Humphries then muffed the punt, and Johnson recovered the ball at the Clemson 13-yard line.

Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, wondered what Humphries was doing attempting to field the punt in the first place:

That turnover added to what was a great half for Johnson, as noted by ESPN College Football:

Wake Forest needed all of two plays before Wolford and Serigne connected on a touchdown strike for the second time, this one from 14 yards out, to grab the lead back from Clemson, 14-10. Serigne was the first freshman tight end to get two touchdowns in a game since 1998, per Wake Forest Football:

The Demon Deacons' advantage was short-lived. Stoudt once again responded. He led an impressive 12-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a four-yard touchdown pass to Scott. The Tigers enjoyed a 17-14 lead with 27 seconds left until halftime.

But that was just enough time for Wake Forest kicker Mike Weaver to line up and connect on a 50-yard field goal as the half expired to tie the game. The 17 points were the Demon Deacons' highest first-half total all year:

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was blunt in the assessment of his team, per ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy:

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee took a look at the first-half stats and couldn't believe that the two teams were tied:

Clemson failed to create much separation in the third quarter too. Lakip hit a 39-yard field goal to put the Tigers ahead 20-17 five minutes into the half, but they couldn't pad the lead any more. Clemson's offense was moving the ball better and not turning it over, but it still couldn't find the score that would break the game open.

After missing a 54-yard attempt in the third, Weaver tied the game in the fourth quarter from 31 yards out with 11:08 to play.

Those three points helped bring the Demon Deacons back into the contest and build some confidence among the Wake Forest faithful.

Then, on the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, Scott went 68 yards on a pitch-and-catch from Stoudt.

Scott's big-play ability was exactly what Clemson needed to shake itself back to life. ESPN.com's David Hale is already looking to the future, during which he sees Watson and Scott anchoring the Tigers offense:

Clemson doubled its lead, 34-20, on its next drive, with Gallman punching it in from 30 yards out. Although Wake Forest had 6:36 left to tie the game, the final touchdown broke the Demon Deacons' spirit.

Although Clemson continues looking up at the unbeaten Florida State Seminoles in the standings, the Tigers' win at least keeps them in the hunt for one of the six big New Year's Day bowls. The Orange Bowl reserves a spot for the highest-ranked ACC team not going to the College Football Playoff, which in all likelihood will be Clemson.

On the other side, Wake Forest's journey to its first conference win won't get much easier. The Demon Deacons play North Carolina State, Virginia Tech and Duke to wrap up the regular season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Peters' Updated 2015 NFL Draft Stock Following Dismissal

Washington Huskies cornerback Marcus Peters was dismissed from the team on Thursday for a violation of team rules, as reported by Adam Jude of The Seattle Times.

Peters is arguably the top prospect at his position, presuming he chooses to enter the 2015 NFL draft. In light of his dismissal from Washington, it appears forgoing the final year of his collegiate eligibility is the best course of action for the redshirt junior.

However, The Seattle Times' report states that Peters clashed with the Huskies coaching staff multiple times. His dispute with an assistant during Wednesday's practice, combined with missing practice Tuesday and arguments with his superiors amid Saturday's win over Colorado, led to his dismissal.

As talented as Peters may be, what should turn out to be his final college coach, Chris Petersen, won't exactly be giving NFL talent evaluators a glowing endorsement.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller explains why Peters' solid, first-round stock may not budge despite an alarming, abrupt conclusion to his Huskies career:

CBSSports.com draft expert Dane Brugler expressed similar sentiment in his analysis:

Gil Brandt of NFL.com is on the other side of what should be some heated Peters debates in the coming months:

The good news is that prospective NFL suitors don't have to concern themselves with Peters getting injured for the remainder of the season.

As long as he stays in shape during his gridiron hiatus and can convince teams in pre-draft interviews that he simply couldn't coexist with Petersen, Peters shouldn't fall out of the first day.

Peters' ability to play press coverage translates well to the NFL, where he'll need to be physical right at the point of attack due to the plethora of illegal contact and defensive holding penalties called. It also helps that he tackles well and doesn't shy away from stepping up in run support.

This unfortunate Washington episode should also offer Peters some extra motivation to exonerate himself if there are any lingering, negative sentiments about how he'd jell in an NFL locker room. Teams that need help in the secondary should be running to the podium if Peters falls to them in the draft.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Peters' Updated 2015 NFL Draft Stock Following Dismissal

Washington Huskies cornerback Marcus Peters was dismissed from the team on Thursday for a violation of team rules, as reported by Adam Jude of The Seattle Times ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tennessee Football: 2015 Recruits Vols Must Land

As an encore to his seventh-ranked class in his first full season as Tennessee football coach, Butch Jones has pieced together an even more dynamic, versatile class in the 2015 cycle.

The Volunteers currently have a group of 26 prospects that is ranked fourth in the nation, according to the 247Sports. It also features more 5-star prospects (three) than anybody else.

But just because this class is clearly among the best doesn't mean UT is loaded at every position.

Hammering out an exact number of players Jones wants has been a practice in futility each of the past two seasons. Last year, UT brought in 32 players. So, while one would think that means the Vols would have a smaller class this year, it hasn't been the case.

Not only do the Vols already have more than the 25 commits that teams are allotted to sign, but they're actively recruiting several more players—a couple of which could really put this class over the top in terms of talent.

From elite skill-position players to need-meeters across both lines of scrimmage, the Vols have myriad options out there and remain high on the list of some of the nation's top players.

Let's take a look at the six players UT needs to sign in the next three months leading up to national signing day.

Begin Slideshow

6 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 11

The inaugural college football postseason race may be the most important element of this weekend's pivotal schedule, but it remains imperative to keep an eye on the 2015 recruiting cycle with just three months separating us from national signing day. The second weekend of November features meaningful matchups on the field and several compelling prospect visits across the country.

These coveted players could ultimately reshape future campaigns for each program by providing a serious infusion of talent on both sides of the ball. Here's our weekly look at top recruits who plan to spend time on campuses.

Begin Slideshow

Clemson vs. Wake Forest: Live Score and Analysis

The No. 21 Clemson Tigers (6-2) are looking to avoid the upset tonight, as they take a trip to sleepy Winston-Salem to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2-6). 

Dabo Swinney's team will be looking to win its sixth straight contest. Clemson has to win out if there's any chance of playing in the ACC Championship Game. Of course, Florida State would have to lose multiple games for this scenario to unfold. 

Wake Forest is looking to win its first game since late in September. Simply put, it's been a tough year for Dave Clawson's team. If Wake has any shot at winning the game tonight, it will have to play well against Clemson's vaunted defensive front. 

The game will begin at 7:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

Odds Shark has Clemson as a 21-point favorite. A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com. 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: How Would Irish Fare in SEC in 2014?

"Yeah, but they'd finish no better than fifth in the SEC."

Versions of the above statement frequently pop up on Twitter and in online message boards, usually by critics who scoff at the success and attention that schools outside the SEC get instead of a team from college football's top conference. It's mostly hyperbole, since actually being able to quantify such claims would prove almost impossible.

Challenge accepted.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's jab at teams ranked above the Fighting Irish in the College Football Playoff Top 25 play schedules that include what he called "glorified byes"—a thinly veiled jab at SEC schools that frequently line up FCS or low-level FBS teams in November—provides the perfect opportunity to discuss how Notre Dame would fare playing a similar slate.

In other words, how would the Irish do if they were in the SEC?

Ask those down south and you'll get a very firm answer, and it won't be pretty. The opposite goes for Notre Dame's many supporters, who no doubt feel no less than a conference title is the likely outcome. This, despite the fact that Notre Dame's limited recent history against the SEC is...well, let's just say it's not a subject that gets discussed much at Irish fan club gatherings.

That infamous 42-14 loss to Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game is the last time Notre Dame played an SEC opponent. Before that was in 2007, when the Irish were clubbed 41-14 by LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

The lack of commonality between Notre Dame and the SEC makes direct comparison difficult, as the only common opponent this year was Rice. Both the Irish and Texas A&M handily beat the Owls, but that was early in the season before the defending Conference USA champions righted the ship and are now on a five-game winning streak.

Because of this, most comparisons are hypothetical and based on assumptions, which depending on the source can be biased. Chris Alderson of FootballNation.com took a stab at figuring out how Notre Dame would do if they were in the SEC West, the best division in the country:

"I feel Notre Dame would go 4-4 or 5-3 at best if they played in the SEC West this season. I feel this is a combination of an over ranked team in Notre Dame, but more importantly how dominant the SEC West is this season."

That's an ambitious prediction, though it doesn't factor in which crossover teams the Irish would face from the East. Being on that side of the conference might prove to be far easier, based on how this season has gone for the East's teams and the fact that division is currently led by a school (Missouri) that lost at home to Indiana.

Indiana is 0-4 in the Big Ten, a conference that Notre Dame has gone 2-0 against this season, including a shutout of a Michigan team that just blew out Indiana. A perfect example of the transitive property in action.

Looking at how Notre Dame has performed this season against a schedule that computer ratings guru Jeff Sagarin ranks 49th (NOTE: Sagarin rates every SEC team's schedule as 46th or better), the results don't look like the kind that would translate into success down south. A pair of 16-point neutral-site wins over Purdue and Syracuse, both of whom are 3-6, aren't anything to write home about. Nor is a victory at home against 4-5 North Carolina, a game in which Notre Dame gave up 43 points.

There's been one true road game for the Irish, one pure hostile environment, which also happened to be their only loss. Yet the 31-27 defeat at Florida State stands as their best result because of the atmosphere, the overall effort and the style points they gained for hanging in there with the defending national champs.

"Notre Dame now joins the ever-growing ranks of elite but once-beaten teams, but it may have seen its stature grow by taking FSU down to the wire, on the road," wrote Bleacher Report's Tom Weir.

In that respect, Notre Dame compares favorably to Ole Miss, who despite losing for the first time at LSU found itself in the initial CFP's final four, then after losing in heartbreaking fashion the following week at home to Auburn is still ranked higher than several one-loss teams (and just behind the Irish).

Maybe that means the Irish would do better against tougher competition, that to this point it has played up or down to the opponent's level. Presumably, this would translate to better efforts against SEC foes, but that's as much of an assumption as anything else.

Unless Notre Dame gets paired up with an SEC team in the postseason this year, the next chance to accurately compare it to that conference will be in 2017 when it hosts Georgia. It might be easier to gauge how the Irish would finish in the ACC, thanks to its long-term scheduling agreement with that conference.

Simple answer on that: Notre Dame would essentially be the Duke of the ACC, maybe the Clemson. In other words, good enough to lose to Florida State.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Does Convincing Win over Arizona State Put Notre Dame in Position to Crack CFP?

Notre Dame fans have been feeling slighted by the College Football Playoff committee because of their low ranking despite narrowly losing to the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder discuss whether a win against Arizona State is enough to propel the Irish into the CFP top four.

Do you think Notre Dame will make the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Tigers Must Get Their Defensive Edge Back vs. Texas A&M

AUBURN, Ala. — Calling Auburn's 38-23 loss to Mississippi State last month a turning point for the 2014 season is definitely an understatement.

The Tigers were plagued by offensive inconsistency and another slow start away from home while their defense had few answers for the Bulldogs' star-studded attack.

Since that loss and an important bye week, the Auburn offense has responded with back-to-back victories featuring more than 500 total yards apiece.

However, the Auburn defense has gone through the wrong kind of turnaround, as it allowed more yards in the South Carolina and Ole Miss games than in any other previous matchup:

The issues have mostly been in the passing game, where opposing quarterbacks have been able to rely on short- to intermediate-range passes to move the ball effectively.

"We’ve got to do a better job with our zones and passing things off and everything that goes with that," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said Wednesday night. "It all works together on defense, but that’s an area we need to improve on. Our coaches understand that and our players understand that. I’m confident we will."

With Georgia and Alabama coming up, Auburn's defense will have a chance to get its edge back against a Texas A&M offense that, despite its struggles, is exactly the challenge the Tigers need.

"We are playing a team that was ranked in the Top 10 about a month ago," Malzahn said. "They are unbelievable on both sides of the football. Offensively, they have experience up front, they have big, fast receivers, very good running backs and a talented young quarterback."

Although the Aggies went with a more vanilla offense with first-time starter Kyle Allen at quarterback last Saturday, they still lead the SEC in pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns with head coach Kevin Sumlin's offensive scheme.

As the last two weeks have shown, the Tigers have a lot of work to do in tightening up the secondary.

Auburn faced 53 pass attempts from South Carolina's Dylan Thompson two weeks ago, which was the most an opponent has thrown against the Tigers since Washington State's Connor Halliday threw the ball 63 times in the 2013 season opener.

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier's no-punt strategy also put extra pressure on an Auburn pass defense that had improved significantly from its 2013 numbers but started to show cracks again.

"We had a lot of miscommunication," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said after the South Carolina game. "We’ve had some of that this year but not nearly to that degree. It was more like they reverted back to where they weren’t sure about some of their adjustments."

Johnson said the Tigers cut down their mistakes in his four key areas of defensive play—penalties, missed assignments, missed tackles and finishing plays—from the South Carolina game to the Ole Miss game, but the mistakes were magnified.

"When we missed a tackle, it was a big, glaring missed tackle," Johnson said.

Ole Miss took advantage of that poor tackling in space with its playmakers on the outside.

A team like Texas A&M is built to capitalize on those same mistakes, and the Tigers could be in for a frustrating afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium if they don't improve in that area.

"We know we need to do better moving on this season," junior linebacker Kris Frost said. "[Ole Miss] had some big-time playmakers, as do all the teams we play each and every week, but they definitely did a great job of getting out in space and making moves on us. We missed a few tackles that were unacceptable, but it's basically all about getting back to the basics and really focusing on what we have to do to improve."

Auburn's play against the run has continued to be its defensive strong suit, and the defensive line showed improvement in the pass rush in the road win over Ole Miss with a season-high four sacks.

But sure tackling and good communication in the secondary were the keys to Auburn's early-season success on defense.

If the Tigers don't reclaim those advantages and take care of business this Saturday, the Aggies could give them a scare—no matter how much the offense is struggling without Kenny Hill.

"We never go into a game with the mindset that we can relax," Frost said. "If anything, it puts us on higher guard against the team we're playing, like a team like South Carolina that has nothing to lose. ... We're going to go into this game with the same attitude we go into every game, which is try to get better and try to do everything we can to dominate from the start."

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 5 Most Telling Stats for BYU This Season

On the heels of a season-saving win at Middle Tennessee, BYU has a bye week before its final three games. But with most of the season already finished, now is a good time to look back on the first nine games.

Numbers never tell the whole story, but a lot can be learned from this season's statistics. There's no way to describe a convincing four-game winning streak and subsequent losing skid with numbers, but there are several stats that tell a lot about the season.

So, what are the Cougars' five most telling stats? Here they are.

Begin Slideshow

LSU vs. Alabama Is Old-School SEC Showdown Fans Have Been Waiting For

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you are an SEC fan who is troubled by the rise of the spread-out, uptempo offenses that have infiltrated the league, you can take a deep breath this week, at least for a time.

Alabama-LSU will much more closely resemble what SEC traditionalists think when they think of a high-profile matchup.

Both teams are in the top half of the SEC in nearly every rushing category. Both feature a stable of punishing backs capable of wearing out opposing defenses. Both teams can set up the play action and use it to deadly precision.

It’s a combination that has worked for these two teams over the years and continues even as the conference landscape around them changes.

When they meet on Saturday in yet another game with SEC and national title implications, it will be a breath of fresh air and the showdown that old-school fans have been waiting for.

For LSU, it’s been about the emergence of a freshman force.

Leonard Fournette came in with all the hype in the world, and after a lackluster debut he’s turned into the Tigers’ top running back. He leads LSU with 657 yards on the season.

“He's got a lot more confidence right now because of the experience that he's gained throughout the season,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, who battled with Les Miles for his signature out of high school. “He's got great size. He's a very instinctive runner. He's got really good speed, and he can run with power. He's difficult to tackle. A very physical player. They have a very physical team, and they're playing physical football right now.

“There's not a lot of trick 'em to it. You've just got to match and be the same kind of physical team to be able to have a chance to have any kind of success against them. Leonard has been really, really productive, not to our surprise. We thought he was that kind of player, and he's certainly proven to be.”

Behind him are two seniors, Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, who are only two yards apart on the year, but Magee averages over a yard per carry more.

The trio makes up a dynamic rushing attack that is the focal point of LSU’s offense.

“They've said, 'OK, we've got a good offensive line, we've got really good running backs, so we're going to run the football and establish the run,’” Saban said. “‘And you're going to have to stop us. And then we're going to use play-action passes to try to make explosive plays down the field,' which has been very effective for them.”

While it may not look like it on the surface, Alabama’s running the ball about as effectively as it has under Saban. It lost its most explosive back in Kenyan Drake, but T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry have made up a duo that is as good as any pair has been recently.

Yeldon is still the workhorse and always will be. He’s been a consistent back in his three years in Tuscaloosa and continues to put up big numbers.

Where Alabama has struggled in the run game has been on the offensive line, where the Crimson Tide have dealt with several injuries and only two players have started every game.

“As much as you want to say the next guy is going to come in and there's not going to be a skip, that's our overall goal,” center Ryan Kelly said. “But when you have five guys working together all spring, summer and into the fall and you take one guy out or two guys come in, that's where the leadership takes place. They have to help the young guys out and vice versas. It's all five of us working as one. We're not going to leave anybody out to dry. Just do the best we can.”

Alabama and LSU might look a little different in terms of style of play compared to some of the other great SEC showdowns this year.

There won’t be much secret to what either team wants to do. It’s just a matter of stopping it.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why CFB's Most Explosive Offense Should Fear the Most Underrated Defense

TCU has one of the top offenses in the country, but it may be getting more than it bargained for when the Horned Frogs ta on a very underrated Kansas State defense on Saturday.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses how the Kansas State Wildcats boast the most underrated defense in the country.

Who has the best defense in college football?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The College Football Playoff Elimination Game Nobody Saw Coming

Bill Snyder, master of chalkboards, play sheets and press conferences, shaped Kansas State’s upcoming landscape-alerting matchup in a way only he could.

“Big game, I guess,” the Kansas State coach said at his weekly press conference. “That’s what you’d say.”

His enthusiasm, reserved as anticipated, is consistent with a coach who has forgotten more football knowledge than we could ever hope to acquire in our collective lifetimes. Despite his unwillingness to embrace Week 11 as an elimination game for two unforeseen hopefuls, that’s precisely what it will serve as.

This was always the case, of course. Long before the season began, we knew that Week 11 would ultimately decide the Big 12. We also understood that if all went according to plan, a College Football Playoff spot would be won or lost on November 8.

That part hasn’t changed. But the participants have.

Baylor vs. Oklahoma—once thought to be your pseudo-conference championship game—will give up center court to the current No. 6 and No. 7, according to the College Football Playoff’s selection committee. They will be replaced by a team surging thanks in large part to its 75-year-old leader and a program that oh so famously acquired the “Little Sisters of the Poor” label four short years ago.  

Once thought to be on the outskirts of interest due to a power program-heavy slate of games, Kansas State and TCU take a backseat to no one. Not Alabama-LSU, not Arizona State-Notre Dame, not Ohio State-Michigan State, not Oregon-Utah.

Operating with vastly different styles and coaching philosophies, each team has put itself in prime position for a spot in the postseason. The path to get here wasn’t likely or entirely reasonable, but it wasn’t a fluke either.

It was imperfect, which is how it’s supposed to be. And in a year lacking dominant teams, the winner of this matchup that will take on a quarterfinal-ish feel will make an emphatic statement to the group tasked with deciding the postseason.

 

The Case for TCU: The Rise of a Quarterback

Having just pulled one of the great escapes of the season, the TCU football team huddled in the Morgantown, West Virginia locker room to pray.

Shortly after it concluded, quarterback Trevone Boykin stood up and apologized to the entire team for his lackluster 12-of-30 performance through the air.

“All head coaches would be happy when one of your leaders shows a sign of maturity and growing up to become what you need them to become,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson said. “I thought he did a great job because nobody prompted him to do that.”

Perhaps we found out more about Boykin—the most improved player in all of college football—in a game in which he suddenly looked human. His development on the field has been one of this season’s most significant storylines. But his growth off of it is an aspect of this maturation that can easily go unnoticed.

Before struggling in the elements against West Virginia last weekend, Boykin had been practically perfect. After bouncing around through much of his career—even changing positions due to injuries and depth concerns—he has exploded.

You can match up his statistical performance over the course of the season with just about any other quarterback. Even with last weekend’s dud factored in, Boykin has been one of the nation's most productive players.

Part of this, of course, is the result of experience gained. But it’s much more than that, especially when you look at the evolution of the offense he’s leading and the new influences around him.

“No. 1, he’s older. And No. 2, I think the change of the offense fit him better,” Patterson said. “I think Coach Cumbie and Coach Meacham have done a great job of growing him up. Matt Joeckel coming from A&M really gave him competition and taught him how to run the offense.”

Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie were perhaps college football’s most important free-agent signings of this past season. Meacham came from Houston, where he was the co-offensive coordinator. Cumbie, just 33, was the co-offensive coordinator at Texas Tech. The two arrived with a mission to transform a stagnant offense, and the results have been staggering.

Their influence was immediate, and more importantly, it has allowed Boykin to utilize his skill set. This transformation may seem like a surprise to us, although the man tasked with slowing him down come Saturday saw this coming.

“I’ve never felt that he was anything other than an excellent talent. I’ve always felt that,” Bill Snyder said. “They were playing within a system at that point and time and it was well coordinated with the rest of their program. His numbers are obviously far greater, but I’ve always thought he was a good talent.”

 

The Case for Kansas State: Embracing the Constant

Patterson opened his weekly press conference by saying very little. This was the anti-marketing way to tease a game, the opposite of a pay-per-view-ian sell to attract more interest.

“Back at home, game nine,” Patterson said, planning his exit. “Really good Kansas State team, but you don’t really have to say much about them. They’ve been doing it for a while.”

In many ways, Patterson’s Cliff's Notes assessment of K-State is impeccable. It won’t sell tickets or lure viewers, but this is precisely who they are. It’s a label the university wears proudly under its coach, who also moonlights as mascot, university billboard and coaching legend.

“He’s won at a place where nobody could ever do it before,” Patterson added. “He’s won big ball games and done about everything.”

Under Snyder, Kansas State has taken on many forms. The constants of these teams, however, regardless of the surrounding talent, are the little things that give the Wildcats an edge against anyone.

Even when they are at a talent disadvantage—and they often are—they have certain pluses that cannot be countered in areas of importance that can be easily overlooked.

“You want to have good people that have a value system in place that tells you they’ll be committed to what it is you’re trying to do,” Snyder said. “Guys that have a selflessness about them and will play within the framework and work within the framework of what our program is all about.”

Led by quarterback Jake Waters along with gifted wideout Tyler Lockett, the Wildcats offense is outperforming its scoring output from last season by nearly a touchdown. As promising as the offense appears, the defense is even better.

As it stands, Kansas State leads the Big 12 in yards allowed and total points allowed. The 18.6 points per game the Wildcats allow is No. 12 nationally. The lone loss, of course, came at the hands of Auburn, the No. 3 team in the latest College Football Playoff Top 25.

Even this defeat had plenty of positive takeaways. And since then, momentum has been building to the point where Kansas State’s familiar voice of reason has had to intervene.

“I’m proud of whatever they've achieved up until this point in time, but all of that is behind us. That’s in the past,” Snyder said. “It’s just about what takes place now. We start looking forward to games down the road or what the polls are going to say at the end of the season, and then we’re looking in the wrong direction.”

There’s something to be said about this sentiment and the unique ability to admire what's at work—an opportunity so close you can almost touch it. And yet there's the necessity of perspective.

The playoff is one of the few football-related matters that Snyder has yet to explore, only because—like everyone else—he’s still figuring out how the thing works. That doesn’t mean he isn’t in tune with his team or the possibility of this dream scenario becoming a reality.

“The preparation isn’t any different. The approach isn’t any different,” Snyder said. “But I’m not naive to all the hoopla around the playoffs. It’s how you handle it.

 

Live to Fight Another Week

The expectations have changed.

Kansas State and TCU, thought to be fodder in a year with two overwhelming Big 12 favorites, have seized control for the time being. It happened gradually, but the moment of clarity feels remarkably sudden.

Nothing about this matchup has changed. The date, Nov. 8, has not shifted. The location, Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, will serve as the setting as expected.

The only difference is that TCU and Kansas State suddenly have complete control of their football fates—an unlikely position—even with both programs just a few years removed from a BCS cameo. In football time, it feels like ages ago.

“Both of us are told a lot that you’re not supposed to do what you’re able to do,” Patterson said.

But they have done, outside of a lone blemish apiece, almost anything they please. As a result, an unlikely playoff run will pick up continued steam this Saturday. Another will reach a sudden, crushing halt.

There are no guarantees that either program will end up crashing the College Football Playoff, although the victor will stay alive for another week. In doing so, it will state a tremendous case to the selection committee as the 2014 season inches closer to its conclusion.

Big game, I guess.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Hottest and Coldest Players in College Football Post Week 10

It's a common practice to check the weather forecast to see how it may impact a college football game. This should be extended to checking the temperature of certain players, who seem to be heating up even as the weather cools while others are somehow colder than the climate.

Hot and cold streaks happen all the time, but for these players the trend up or down doesn't look to be stopping any time soon. Those on a roll look to continue carrying their teams forward, while the ones on a downward spiral are trying to figure out how to reverse the trend.

Check out our list of the hottest and coldest players in college football at this point in the season.

Begin Slideshow

Can Urban Meyer Save Himself from Irrelevance?

We still believe in Urban Meyer because, well, he's Urban Meyer. And we still believe in Ohio State because history tells us to and because, well, Urban Meyer's the coach.     

It isn't time to give up on either of those truths yet, but at some point a little evidence would be nice. That doesn't include scoring 60 points on Illinois or Purdue or Indiana.

Meyer has opened up about the unhealthy obsession he had with winning when he was at Florida. Every chance he gets, he now insists that he has changed. He smells the roses.

I wonder: Does a guy obsessed with winning championships find less pressure in being irrelevant? Or more? That's where Meyer stands now if we're being honest. It's why this Saturday's game at Michigan State means so much to him. It is the only marquee game of the season for the entire Big Ten.

Meyer needs a big win at Ohio State. It would be his first.

He has had few big-game opportunities at Ohio State, thanks to the mess Jim Tressel left and the weakness of the Big Ten. He has had to play this year without his quarterback, too. Still, in nearly three years at Ohio State, guess how many teams ranked in the top 10 he has beaten.

Doesn't a winning-addict feel pressure from that?

"I could give you the coachspeak and say I don't feel it,'' Meyer said this week on the conference coaches teleconference with reporters. "I feel it. I won't say personal pressure. Ohio State pressure. That has been brought up a couple times.''

This cannot be what Meyer had in mind when he came to Ohio State. It seems almost impossible, but the Buckeyes aren't getting any national attention—not even Meyer is. They are ranked 14th in the College Football Playoff poll, second lowest among one-loss teams in the power five conferences.

Meyer is a big-game coach, even if the one he lost to Alabama in the SEC title game sent him to the hospital. He won two national championships, and then left to work on his health. Florida has yet to recover.

And when Meyer decided to return to coaching a year later, the feeling was that he'd be able to bring the SEC to the Big Ten. But the Big Ten is absolutely killing Ohio State by not providing decent competition. It has rendered Meyer irrelevant.

Just a theory, but the only thing worse than losing for a winning-addict is not competing at all. Boredom is stressful.

Ohio State 66, Kent State 0

Ohio State 50, Cincinnati 28.

Ohio State 56, Rutgers 17

And last week, Ohio State 55, Illinois 14.

Meyer told Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel that late in the Illinois game, he was already thinking about Michigan State, talking to an assistant coach about plans for big-game week.

He hasn't had many of these opportunities at Ohio State. But when he's had them, he hasn't won.

For most of this first two years at Ohio State, Meyer came across like the coaching legend he is. He took a team on probation and won 24 straight games. Then, the Buckeyes lost the Big Ten championship game to Michigan State last year.

Since then, everything has gone backward.

That might sound like an overstatement, but after losing to Michigan State, the Buckeyes lost to Clemson in the Orange Bowl. They lost quarterback Braxton Miller for the season with a shoulder injury before the opener. And in the second game, the lost at home to Virginia Tech. That was three losses in four games.

Sure, you can argue that Meyer has done a great job of holding things together while developing freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett. But how do you know that, considering the row of patsies Ohio State has beaten?

It's hard to know what's real and what's just image with Ohio State and Meyer. I mean, are we sure the Buckeyes aren't dropping off like the rest of the Big Ten? But just when you ask a question like that, or start to doubt Meyer, he comes up with something. Barrett has been improving and Michigan State's defensive backs aren't as good as they were last year.

Meanwhile, though, Meyer needs for Michigan to rebuild itself. That was a national spotlight game for Ohio State, too. A Big Game Week. But the Wolverines have not held up their end of the bargain. Meyer said this week that Michigan is Ohio State's rival, not Michigan State.

He might want to adjust his thinking on that. Michigan State is the only thing the Big Ten can send his way.

The players are starting up the hype. Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones said at the Spartans' weekly press conference that Barrett is better than Miller at QB. That sent Miller into a Twitter rant, and he tweeted: 

If it helps: Jones led Michigan State with eight tackles in the Rose Bowl. Stanford noticed.

The little back-and-forth is only good for the Big Ten. Anything to draw eyeballs.

It's also Meyer's only chance left this year to remind us that, well, he's Urban Meyer.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for the New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: 2015 Recruits Trojans Need to Land

USC is operating with a full allotment of scholarships in its 2015 recruiting—the first time the program has enjoyed that luxury in three years. 

Head coach Steve Sarkisian is making the most of his opportunity with the shroud of NCAA sanctions lifted, already putting together a signing class that 247Sports ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 9 in the nation

But Sarkisian and his staff have a chance to take the 2015 recruiting class to an even higher level by adding a few of the top targets still remaining on the Trojans' board. 

USC is in the mix for some of the nation's premier offensive and defensive talent. These are players capable of making immediate impacts, much like 2014 signees Toa Lobendahn, John "JuJu" Smith and Adoree' Jackson.

Begin Slideshow

USC Football: 2015 Recruits Trojans Need to Land

USC is operating with a full allotment of scholarships in its 2015 recruiting—the first time the program has enjoyed that luxury in three years...

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M Football: Who Is the Aggies' X-Factor vs. Auburn?

The Texas A&M football team will take on the Auburn Tigers Saturday in Auburn, Alabama. The Texas A&M player who could have the largest impact on the outcome of the game is freshman receiver Speedy Noil.

The Aggies' true freshman receiver has quickly become the team's biggest threat on the offensive side of the football. The 6'0", 193-pound athlete has developed into a game-breaking threat on offense and special teams. 

The Texas A&M football team is 6-3 on the season with a 2-3 record in the SEC. The Aggies have struggled mightily on offense during a recent four-game stretch that has seen them held scoreless in eight of their 12 quarters of play. 

The one constant during that stretch has been the strong play of Noil at receiver and in the return game. The Aggies offense is struggling to find an identity right now, but one player they can count on every week is Noil. 

 

Freshman of Influence

Noil has progressed during his freshman season into being the most effective receiver on the Aggies  roster. During the previous four games, Noil has led the team with 23 receptions for 256 yards and three touchdowns. 

While many of the Texas A&M players appear to be going through the motions, Noil is stepping up his game. When true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen was forced into the starting lineup against Louisiana-Monroe, Noil led the team with five receptions for 69 yards including an incredible 39-yard touchdown grab. 

The Aggies spent much of the Louisiana-Monroe game in the pistol formation on offense. They only put two wide receivers out wide in their base formation. That formation makes it much easier for the secondary to defend the pass.

Noil was able to have some success against the Warhawks even with that handicap. An argument can be made that Noil is the Aggies' best receiver nine games into his career.

 

The Return Game

Noil has quietly put together an outstanding season on special teams. He currently ranks No. 7 in the nation in punt returns, averaging 15.9 yards per return. Noil's 39-yard return down to the 12-yard line set up the Aggies' second touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe.

He has not returned a punt for a touchdown yet but does have a 67-yard return on the season. Through nine games, he has returned 11 punts for 175 yards. He also leads the team in total yardage on kick returns with 349 yards on 16 returns.

The freshman receiver will need to have a big game against Auburn in the return game. The Aggies offense is struggling to get first downs. It picked up just two first downs in the second half against Louisiana-Monroe.

In order to score against Auburn, the Texas A&M offense is going to need short fields against the Tigers defense. It will need Noil to have some nice returns in order to create those short fields.

The Aggies will start Allen on the road at Auburn. Noil will need to give the Aggies positive field position to keep the pressure off of Allen. 

It will take a monumental team performance for the Aggies to get a win on the Plains. Noil could be the catalyst for the team finding a way to pick up a crucial victory on the road. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages