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Georgia Football: Bulldogs Must Fix Run Defense to Keep SEC Title Hopes Alive

Saturday’s game was supposed to give the Georgia Bulldogs a fourth consecutive win over the Florida Gators and further control of the SEC East.  Instead, an inability to stop the Gators’ ground attack resulted in one of the most embarrassing Georgia losses in recent history.

And while there are still plenty of meaningful goals that can be accomplished by this Georgia team, the Bulldogs must fix their run defense to have any shot at an SEC Championship.

In the case of Saturday’s game, statistics tell quite a story.  Florida ran the ball 60 times while attempting just six passes.  Further review makes it abundantly clear that this disproportionate load had less to do with freshman quarterback Treon Harris’ inability to pass and tons to do with Georgia’s complete failure against the run.

As Bulldogs defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt asked rhetorically (per Seth Emerson of Macon's The Telegraph), "If you can’t stop it, why would you do something else?  When you look up and they’ve got over 400 yards rushing, it’s pretty obvious we couldn’t stop it.”

Florida's 60 carries, 50 of which belonged to Kelvin Taylor and Matt Jones, resulted in 418 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.  And on a day when things did not go as planned, each and every one of those yards negated something positive for Georgia. 

Freshman running back Nick Chubb accounted for 215 yards while replacing suspended star running back Todd Gurley in the Bulldogs lineup.  But Georgia’s glaring deficiency against the run made that effort fruitless. 

Quarterback Hutson Mason threw for 319 yards, but that didn’t matter because Georgia couldn’t stop the Gators on the ground.

When all was said and done, what appeared to be an even game based on the box score was a blowout win for Florida in which Georgia never really seemed capable of winning.  And the Bulldogs' struggles defending the run leave ongoing cause for concern at two levels.

First and foremost, Saturday’s display calls into question the toughness of coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s unit.  Time and time again, Florida lined up with one sole intention—to run the ball.  And time and time again, Georgia yielded yardage—both in large bunches and in hard-earned five-to-seven-yard gains.

Georgia had shown glimpses of unrest against the run, particularly in the loss to South Carolina when backup running back Brandon Wilds consistently picked up first downs and advanced the Gamecocks’ cause in a narrow victory.  But Saturday’s shortcomings were more alarming, because Florida’s game plan was so abundantly clear from the onset.

Florida attempted just five passes in the first half, so Georgia began stacking the box.  In a second half that saw Florida attempt just one pass, the Gators racked up 256 rushing yards.  And that was with safeties like Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore sneaking up to play the run and Damian Swann cheating in from his star position.

Florida didn’t merely happen upon yards as Georgia’s defense struggled to anticipate play-calling (which was partly the case against South Carolina).  On the contrary, the Gators willed yardage against Georgia’s front throughout the contest, even with clear intentions.  And it should be noted that unlike Georgia’s offense, which played without its best player (Gurley), the Bulldogs defense was fully intact.

The second and more pressing concern is that Florida didn’t just expose a weakness, the Gators exposed a weakness that several future Georgia opponents will be able to exploit.

Two of Georgia’s remaining four opponents, Auburn and Georgia Tech, rank in the Top 10 nationally in rushing offense.  Accordingly, the Tigers and Yellow Jackets must feel awfully good about moving the football against the Bulldogs.  After all, two Gators, Jones and Taylor, ran for career highs against Georgia on Saturday.  And they did so against a healthy Georgia defense and without even feigning a desire to pass.

And if Georgia plays its way into the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, something that seemed all but assured prior to the Florida game but now is entirely up in the air, the Bulldogs will likely face Mississippi State, Auburn or Alabama.  Those three teams combined average more than 250 rushing yards per contest.

The absence of Todd Gurley, the improvement of Hutson Mason and the emergence of the defensive secondary are no longer hindering this Georgia team.  But a much more alarming deficiency defined this team yesterday.  Georgia needs to make the loss to Florida and the onslaught of rushing yards allowed an outlier performance.  Otherwise, the Bulldogs can say goodbye to dreams of an SEC Championship.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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Alabama Back on the Rise as Tide Rolls Toward Death Valley

For a team that’s riding into Death Valley this week, Alabama’s spirits should be unusually high.

The Crimson Tide spent Saturday on the sidelines, enjoying the rest and healing that comes from a bye week, yet they saw their status for the College Football Playoff soar.

Yes, Nick Saban’s crew is very much back in the hunt for a national championship, even after getting written off by many (including me) when it struggled at Arkansas.

But Alabama will be no worse than fifth when the next round of CFP rankings surfaces on Tuesday, which is a great place to be for a team that’s certain to blow past the only team it has lost to, Ole Miss.

The schedule is also loaded with the control-your-own-destiny factor for Alabama. Both games with higher-ranked teams—Nov. 15 with Mississippi State and Nov. 29 with Auburn—will take place in Tuscaloosa. Alabama’s scouting crew no doubt has some fresh ideas about how to unseat those two SEC West rivals after seeing both taken to the wire in narrow victories on Saturday.

That’s what’s really good for the rising Tide. Every team ahead of it suddenly looks as vulnerable as Alabama did after losing to Ole Miss and then grinding out that 14-13 squeaker at Arkansas on Oct. 11 on a missed PAT.

If Alabama deserved to get kicked to get curb after struggling at Arkansas, shouldn’t No. 1 Mississippi State be under the same scrutiny after surviving the Razorbacks at home by the mere count of 17-10?

Dak Prescott wasn’t operating on two good wheels for MSU, but three first-half turnovers made the Bulldogs’ top-ranked status look shaky as they hit a rugged homestretch.

No. 2 Florida State has a relatively weak schedule the rest of the way, but it is developing a bad habit of falling behind early and needing minor miracles to remain undefeated.

Louisville had the Seminoles firmly on the ropes recently, and it’s not unthinkable they could be kept there by one of the two resurgent in-state rivals it must face.

FSU has a Nov. 15 date at Miami, which is 6-3 and climbing after beating its last three opponents by a cumulative score of 132-60. The Seminoles finish at home against Florida, and the Gators just went from doormats to dominators while perhaps saving Will Muschamp’s job with a thrashing of Georgia.

No. 3 Auburn remains the best of the once-beatens, but only because Ole Miss fumbled the ball away inside the 10-yard line twice in the final five minutes on Saturday.

And while Oregon looked strong against traditional nemesis Stanford, Alabama should be able to leapfrog the Ducks if it wins out.

That’s the tough part. But Saturday was probably the perfect time for an off day, as the Tide braces for its trip to Louisiana State. 

Death Valley has been a graveyard for many SEC West hopefuls, including Ole Miss this season. Alabama has been 2-1 there in the Saban era, and they’ve all been nail-biters. The Tide won in overtime in 2008, lost 24-21 in 2010 and salvaged a 21-17 win in 2012.

This year, they’ll head to Baton Rouge with momentum that will justify every “Roll Tide” chant. They’ve won their last two games over Texas A&M and Tennessee by a combined 93-20 score and the Alabama defense has yet to allow 400-yard game.

"This team is getting better and better every week," quarterback Blake Sims told the Montgomery Advertiser last week. "We are becoming even closer. We want to play hard for each other. The coaches fight for each other. We want to play harder for them."

Sims also has added a “Shake and Blake” element to his attack. With touchdown runs of 43 and 28 yards in the last two games, Alabama has the threat of a running quarterback for what seems like the first time in forever.

“He has brought an added dimension that coach Saban has never had at Alabama, with a guy that can run like that,” former Alabama quarterback Jay Barker told the Associated Press.

And for a program with such a rich football legacy, the 2014 edition of the Crimson Tide is on a somewhat surprising pace to set a flock of school records. Projections by AL.com envision Sims raising the bar for most passing yards, Amari Cooper rewriting the receiving section and Alabama setting a new mark for total offense.

On the other side of the ball, Alabama is getting back junior linebacker Denzel Devall just in time for the trip to Death Valley. He’s one of the Tide’s most experienced defenders, and he will add depth to a unit that needs just one more sack to match last season’s total of 22.

If there’s a flaw in the Alabama attack, it’s with the kicking game. Adam Griffith made his first seven field goal attempts this season, then missed four of his next five. He has been used sparingly the last two times out, attempting only one three-pointer, and he missed a point-after at Tennessee.

At a press conference last week, Saban said Griffith has “a little bit of a physical problem” that has limited his practice, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

But with the way Alabama has rebounded, the team looks determined not to let its chances for a fourth national championship in six seasons come down to a kick. 


Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Bowl Predictions: Updated Playoff Projections Heading into Week 11

Surprise, surprise—college football fans were treated to another incredible slate of games in Week 10 that impacted the postseason picture.

The College Football Playoff looms over seemingly every single game that features a top-notch contender, which makes the season feel like a nonstop postseason. The intensity and sense of desperation when Auburn and Ole Miss came down to the final minutes on Saturday was palpable through even a television screen as both SEC teams tried to fight off essential elimination from the postseason picture.

Elsewhere, Mississippi State survived a scare from an Arkansas team that has yet to win a conference game since 2012, TCU overcame a multi-score deficit in the fourth quarter and kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired against West Virginia, Notre Dame escaped a dangerous Navy team at the end and the Pac-12 delivered its usual thrilling late-night finishes.

Arizona State stunned Utah in overtime, while UCLA handed Arizona its second loss of the season. The Arizona schools are probably not fond of the Bruins, considering they knocked off both the Sun Devils and Wildcats this year.

The biggest upset of Week 10 was Florida’s victory over Georgia.

The Gators controlled the line of scrimmage and dashed the Bulldogs defense for 418 rushing yards. That was Georgia’s second loss, and it still has to play Auburn and potentially an SEC Championship Game against a daunting opponent from the West Division. That may have spelled the end of the Bulldogs’ playoff hopes.

Here is what the updated playoff projections look like as we head into Week 11 of the season.


Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Mississippi State

Rose Bowl: No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Alabama 

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (Semifinal Winners)



First things first—if a presumed playoff contender is not on this list, the assumption is that it will pick up another loss before the end of the season.

That means teams like Oregon, Arizona State, the Big 12 contenders, Notre Dame and Auburn will all fall between now and the announcement of the initial playoff field.

Those Big 12 teams, like Kansas State, TCU and Baylor, will cannibalize each other (Oklahoma may help with Baylor), the Ducks could trip up against Utah or in the Pac-12 title game, the Sun Devils and Fighting Irish play each other, USC (Notre Dame) and Arizona (Arizona State) and the Tigers play at Georgia and at Alabama.

That is a lot of potential losses.

As for a team that will reach the postseason, Florida State simply continues to find ways to win games.

It looked like the Seminoles’ undefeated dreams were over when they trailed 21-0 to Louisville, but defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston led his team back in impressive fashion. Florida State’s difficult games are behind it (at Louisville, Oklahoma State, Clemson and Notre Dame) as well, and fans are in store for another undefeated season.

The Seminoles are simply more talented than Virginia, Miami, Florida and Boston College and should win out.

Bottom line, the defending national champions without a loss are going to crack the field of four.

Michigan State will also reach the playoffs, but it needs to show the selection committee a bit more against top-notch competition. It has been mixed results thus far with a loss to Oregon and a win against Nebraska, so look for the Spartans to seize their opportunity in Week 11 against Ohio State.

Quarterback Connor Cook seemed to understand the importance of this upcoming game when he discussed the fanbase of his opponent, via Mike Griffith of MLive.com:

I think they are pretty crazy actually, pretty outrageous. I remember before the (Big Ten championship) game, there was some crazy old man screaming something at me that I probably shouldn't say right now.

But I just know they are extreme. They're not like arrogant or anything. Ohio State fans, their energy level, if there's one word I could use, it would be extreme, really.

While the Buckeyes will pose a challenge, the Spartans are at home and will throw a stout defense at redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. That will be enough to secure a win and set Michigan State up for an 11-1 regular-season record with games against Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State after that.

A potential conference-title matchup with Nebraska could help the strength of schedule right before the final playoff decision as well.

Then there is arguably the biggest constant in college football—Alabama.

The Crimson Tide seem to have hit their stride with three straight wins following the loss to Ole Miss, which will be critical with contests against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn remaining. The good news for Nick Saban’s bunch is that the games against Auburn and Mississippi State are at home.

Alabama will win the remaining games on its schedule, which would give it victories over Auburn, Mississippi State, LSU, West Virginia and whoever the opponent is in the SEC Championship Game. That resume will not be left on the outside looking in for the playoffs, even with a single loss to Ole Miss.

That leaves Mississippi State.

The top team in the initial playoff rankings has looked anything but dominant against some of the lesser teams in the SEC the past two weeks (Kentucky and Arkansas), but there are two different ways of looking at that. 

Andrea Adelson of ESPN seemed to think the Bulldogs were fortunate, but this stat from ESPN Stats & Info gives the Bulldogs credit for either blowing teams out or keeping games close enough to win at the end:

All that truly matters at this point of the season is coming away with a win, especially in the daunting SEC West.

Mississippi State will manage to do just that in three of its remaining four games (UT Martin, Vanderbilt and a suddenly reeling Ole Miss squad) but will lose at Alabama. While that would leave the Bulldogs out of the SEC title game in this scenario, they would still have wins over LSU, Auburn and Ole Miss. 

That will get them into the College Football Playoff field.


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College Football Playoff Rankings 2014: Predictions for Week 11

Another wild and unpredictable college football weekend is just fresh in the books, but it's already time to assess the damage and figure out how the College Football Playoff should look entering Week 11.

There were huge tests on tap for every team currently in the CFP top four, and not all of them prevailed. Well, that would be obvious with two teams—Auburn and Ole Miss—facing each other, but the far-reaching implications from Week 10 don't start and end in Oxford, Mississippi by any means.

The first-ever CFP rankings were just released before Week 10, but there's considerable work to be done for the committee before another batch of rankings hits the presses.

Let's do some of the work for them and decide how the CFP is likeliest to play out at the end of the season after what we saw throughout Week 10.


1. Mississippi State

Mississippi State is done making statements. The Bulldogs are just trying to stay perfect in the toughest division in college football, and they did so for yet another week with a 17-10 win over Arkansas at home.

The victory improved the Bulldogs to their best record since before the turn of the millennium, as per ESPN Stats and Info:

The Bulldogs were nearly put on upset alert in each of their last two games against Kentucky and Arkansas, but it's not about the style points when you're undefeated in the SEC. It's about simply surviving and advancing, and Mississippi State will know that better than ever down the stretch.

Two of Dan Mullen's toughest matchups are yet to come: facing Alabama on the road on Nov. 15 and Ole Miss also on the road in the Egg Bowl to close out the season.

Despite those gigantic matchups looming, it's hard to bet against Mississippi State. Dak Prescott just gets it done when the game is on the line, and as long as he's healthy and effective, the defense doesn't need to be dominant. 


2. Florida State

It's looking less and less likely that Florida State's unbeaten streak will end in the 2014 regular season.

In what many pegged as the last best chance for the Seminoles to fall from the ranks of the undefeated, Florida State slipped past No. 25 Louisville on Thursday night in a tough matchup, 42-31. It suffered an early 21-point deficit, but Jameis Winston found his groove late and didn't look back.

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel summed up the Florida State win in the most blunt way possible:

To be fair, he's probably right. Winning out would most certainly put Florida State into the four-team playoff. All that's left are games against Virginia, Miami, Boston College, Florida and the ACC title game more than likely versus Duke again. 

Florida's shocking win over Georgia this weekend may make that end-of-season tilt a bit tougher, but the Gators are no match defensively for Winston. The Seminoles have mastered the art of winning ugly against inferior teams, even when the other team pulls out all the stops.

As far as if that recipe will work in the CFP, the Seminoles look like they'll at least get the chance to find out.


3. Auburn

Gus Malzahn once again looks like the guy with the magic tricks in his back pocket this college football season. 

If Saturday's SEC West showdown between Auburn and Ole Miss was indeed a CFP elimination game, then the Tigers are very much alive and well in their quest to make up for last year's defeat in the final BCS title game ever.

They almost never do it in convincing fashion, and there are always deficiencies to point out—like porous tackling or massive penalty troubles, at least on Saturday. But when it comes to winning close games, Auburn is among the best.

They faced a championship-caliber battle from Ole Miss who simply refused to accept a second straight defeat, but the Tigers stepped up to the task again. Travis Haney of ESPN said how Malzahn makes sense of it:

The defeat to Mississippi State hasn't lingered long at all for Auburn, as the team has bounced back with two huge victories over South Carolina and now Ole Miss. The Tigers should out-class Texas A&M and Georgia in their upcoming two games before closing the season at Alabama.

Auburn doesn't control its own destiny in the SEC West, but winning out would most definitely get the Tigers into the top four. Toppling Alabama on the road won't be easy, but Auburn now has two huge road wins on the year against the Rebels and Kansas State.


4. Oregon

The Oregon Ducks might not be the fourth-best team in the country after Week 10, but they're in perfect position to make the CFP at the end of the season.

Alabama still has Mississippi State and Auburn both to play. A couple of other SEC teams could throw things for a loop with one upset. The one-loss Big 12 teams all face uphill climbs to win the favor of the committee.

But Oregon? It was the first team out of the top four in the first rankings released and is likely to be the last team in when the Week 11 rankings are out.

The Ducks stomped a Stanford team at home that has given them so many fits in recent memory, taking the 45-16 victory. Oregon can impress again by beating Utah next weekend.

Mississippi State, Florida State and Auburn will all stay ahead of Oregon should each continue its winning ways, but the Ducks are on a collision course for the Pac-12 title game. Should they end that game with a 12-1 record, nothing will keep Mark Helfrich's squad from being one of the four.

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Despite Its Flaws and Another Ugly Win, UCLA Still in Pac-12 Title Hunt

PASADENA, Calif.—No. 22 UCLA’s 17-7 win over No. 12 Arizona on Saturday in the Rose Bowl was a reflection of the Bruins’ season: sometimes ugly, at other times impressive and ultimately, enough to keep them in contention in the Pac-12.

“We are sitting at 7-2 and it hasn’t been easy,” head coach Jim Mora said. “They keep fighting.”

No, little has come easily for Mora’s bunch. Saturday was UCLA’s third straight win, and the 10-point margin was its most lopsided in this run.

But despite scoring only a field goal in the first half and racking up an alarming 11 penalties for 118 yards, UCLA pulled even in the loss column with one of the three Pac-12 South teams it was looking up at to start the night.

Combined with Utah’s 19-16 loss at Arizona State, the Bruins moved two steps closer to fulfilling the scenarios needed to reach the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Defense and special teams helped the Bruins through their sluggish start against the Wildcats.

Punter Matt Mengel pinned Arizona inside its own 20-yard line six times, which made UCLA’s stifling defense all the more daunting for the Wildcats.

A Paul Perkins' touchdown run and 70-yard scoring bomb from quarterback Brett Hundley to wide receiver Jordan Payton in the third quarter was all the offense the Bruins needed because of the great play in the other phases.

That’s a big step for UCLA in its final stretch, particularly on the defensive side. UCLA gave up big yards and points in bunches in its previous conference outings.

“Today was the first game that I felt defensively like we did that we were supposed to on every play,” Mora said.

As for the offense, there was a lot of stop-and-go. But gaining 271 yards on 59 carries—“that’s like Bear Bryant,” Mora joked—allowed UCLA to dictate the tempo.

Once it softened the Arizona defense, the opportunities came.

“We just needed momentum,” Perkins said.

Before that quick burst of offense, all the Bruins could muster through one half was a field goal.

The Bruins’ offensive woes were perhaps never more magnified than on a 4th-and-1 from the Arizona 44-yard line when Mora sent the punt unit on the field. The call was met with a chorus of boos from the 80,000-plus in attendance.

Mora attributed his decision to past fourth-down misfires. But with the defense playing its best game of the year, UCLA's conservative offensive approach paid off.

Arizona’s veteran offensive line struggled with an aggressive and persistent pass rush from UCLA. The Bruins got to freshman quarterback Anu Solomon for three sacks, making good on a season-long quest of coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s bunch to generate more pressure in the backfield.

“When we get one, the [offensive] line just…gets off [its] game,” linebacker Deon Hollins said, describing the process of getting sacks as self-fulfilling.

Hollins didn’t record a sack, but he made his presence known to Solomon routinely.

“Our ears are pinned back, we smell blood and we just go,” Hollins said.

That the defense was able to draw blood early was UCLA’s saving grace. The Bruins outplayed Arizona through a disjointed first half, holding the prolific Wildcats offense to just 103 yards through the first two quarters.

Of course, with the good of a tenacious defensive effort came the bad of 98 yards in penalties.

“It’s really the thing that’s holding us back right now,” Mora said of penalties.

Three of the Bruins’ flags came on Arizona third downs that the defense had otherwise stopped, including two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls on Myles Jack that extended the Wildcats’ sole scoring drive.

After its touchdown on the game’s opening possession, Arizona was not in scoring range again until one minute remaining in the third quarter.

Both of the Wildcats’ second-half chances ended with missed field goals.

UCLA comes away from Saturday’s win with plenty it can still improve upon. The penalty yardage remains an albatross, and repeated offensive lulls leave the Bruins vulnerable.

But Hollins described each win like building blocks that move UCLA closer to its goal of winning the Pac-12. It may not have been pretty, but the Bruins laid a sizable block by knocking off Arizona.


Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via UCLA athletic department.

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Despite Its Flaws and Another Ugly Win, UCLA Still in Pac-12 Title Hunt

PASADENA, Calif.—No. 22 UCLA’s 17-7 win over No. 12 Arizona on Saturday in the Rose Bowl was a reflection of the Bruins’ season: sometimes ugly, at other times ...

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Utah vs. Arizona State: Game Grades, Analysis for the Sun Devils and Utes

It took overtime, but a front-runner in the Pac-12 South race indeed emerged on Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona as the Arizona State Sun Devils held off the Utah Utes 19-16.

Arizona State blew an early 13-3 lead and had nothing going offensively in the second half, but it found a way to win as it has done all season long. Meanwhile, Utah's magical recent stretch has come to a bitter end in a defeat that all but squashes their conference and outside College Football Playoff hopes.

Here's a look at game grades for both Arizona State and Utah.


Pass Offense: Arizona State ran for more yards than it passed for, which says more about the passing struggles than rushing potency. Taylor Kelly looked rusty again going 18-of-32 for 205 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He would've had two or three picks if it weren't for butter fingers in the Utah secondary.


Run Offense: Utah had the better rushing attack entering the game, but the Sun Devils ended the game with the superior performance. Freshman Demario Richard had a career day with 14 carries for 116 yards, and Kelly had 55 yards rushing—which would've been much more if sacks weren't factored in.


Pass Defense: The Utes can't pass the ball well against hardly anyone, but they struggled especially on Saturday against Arizona State's strong defense. The Sun Devils allowed just 57 yards through the air—2.6 yards per pass attempt. Yikes. 


Run Defense: Stuffing the run was where the onus really fell on Arizona State's defense, and the Sun Devils held their own. Devontae Booker had his 146 yards, but it took nearly 40 carries to do so. As a unit, Utah had just 3.5 yards per carry.


Special Teams: Zane Gonzalez was 4-of-5 on field goals for the day, including the game-winning kick in overtime. Arizona State certainly lost the punting battle, but if there's one battle you don't mind being on the losing end of, it's that one.


Coaching: Arizona State hit a wall in the second half, but it looked largely due to execution rather than poor play calls. The Sun Devils were noticeably conservative at times but decisions almost always paid off in this low-scoring affair that Arizona State was able to squeak out.


Pass Offense: What pass offense? Travis Wilson was invisible through the air with only 57 yards for the game on 12 completions. Tight coverage on his receivers and constant pressure had him improvising all game long. Wilson threw for a touchdown, but that was one of very few effective passing plays from Utah.


Run Offense: The rushing attack more than picked up the slack for the passing game during Utah's second-half run, even opening up Wilson's rare opportunities through the air. Devontae Booker had another big game with 146 yards, but with every one of his 37 carries, Arizona State became more and more aware of the game plan.


Pass Defense: Utah's nasty defense kept them in this game when Arizona State could have blown it open, and the Utes' secondary was making plays. It took some beastly plays from Jaelen Strong to give the Sun Devils the big-play ability, but the Utes otherwise kept Kelly and Co. in check.


Run Defense: The Utes got after the passer at ease, but they couldn't get to the running backs with the same effectiveness. Arizona State scampered for 239 yards rushing on the day, and that's even more impressive when you consider a number of sacks diminished those rushing totals.


Special Teams: Punter Tom Hackett was Utah's best weapon for much of the game. With field position crucial, Hackett had eight punts and one went for 58 yards. But when the game was on the line, the special teams unit let Utah down as Andy Phillips missed an overtime field goal after going 3-of-3 during regulation.


Coaching: Utah's play-calling was head-scratching during many late moments in the game with a stubbornness to run the ball. But you couldn't blame them too much with the way the passing game struggled. Kyle Whittingham nearly looked like a genius when he iced his own kicker before a miss, but then Phillips missed the next try anyway.

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Utah vs. Arizona State: Game Grades, Analysis for the Sun Devils and Utes

It took overtime, but a front-runner in the Pac -12 South race indeed emerged on Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona as the Arizona State Sun Devils held off the Utah Utes 19-16...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Rankings Week 11: B/R's Official Top 25

After another wild weekend of college football, we'll have to wait until Tuesday to see how these results impact the latest College Football Playoff rankings. But we won't make you wait nearly as long to see the latest version of the Bleacher Report Top 25.

Losses by six teams from last week's rankings led to plenty of shake-up, but not everyone fell as much as you'd expect.

The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 19 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Eric Yates.

Each voter submits their ballots based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th, and then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 11 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 10

Week 10 was a week of scares more than upsets, and the effect it will have on the Week 11 Associated Press poll should be minimal because of that.

Undefeated Florida State trailed 21-0 at Louisville before coming back to win on Thursday. Undefeated Mississippi State trailed 10-7 at halftime before coming to beat Arkansas, 17-10. One-loss Notre Dame needed a full 60 minutes to beat Navy in FedEx Field. One-loss TCU needed a last-second field goal to win at West Virginia.

All of those teams were in last week's Top 10.

Alas, it's not like Week 10 was completely devoid of upsets (*cough* Georgia) and other impactful results, making it a fine appetizer for what's shaping up to be a great slate of Week 11 games.

Here's a guess at what Sunday afternoon's poll might look like:

Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 11 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself.  


Biggest Risers


UCLA dominated a lot more than the final score (17-7) indicates against Arizona, outgaining the Wildcats by more than 200 yards.

Jim Mora's team controlled the clock with a ball-possession offense and a finally actualized defense, holding the ball for more than 38 minutes. Quarterback Brett Hundley had 26 passes and 23 rush attempts, not lighting up the box score but lugging his share of the weight.

The Bruins were lucky to win six of their first eight games. A bad bounce here or there could have seen them lose to Cal and/or Colorado, in which case they never would have been ranked in the first place. But now that they've beaten both of the Arizona schools and only lost to one-loss Oregon and two-loss Utah, you'd have to look long and hard to find a two-loss team with a better win-loss profile.

Expect them to rise accordingly.



Clemson is one of the two biggest risers in the projected poll despite not having played in Week 10.

Yeah…it was that type of weekend.

The Tigers benefitted from a long string of losses or unimpressive wins by the teams around them. Three of the four teams directly ahead of them in last week's poll—Utah, West Virginia and East Carolina—all came up in defeat. And the one-loss team close behind them, Duke, needed overtime to beat a not-very-good Pitt team in the afternoon.

There is no concept of Zugzwang in college football. Sometimes, you're allowed to gain an advantage by passing on your turn.

And that's precisely what Clemson just did.


Biggest Fallers


Georgia did not just get beaten by a 3-3 Florida team that was combusting at the seams. It got worked by a 3-3 Florida team that was combusting at the seams, falling by 18 points, 38-20.

The loss was not a good look for a Bulldogs team that entered with one loss and ostensibly controlled its fate for the College Football Playoff. Presently, it no longer even controls its fate in the SEC East.

Georgia still holds the tiebreaker over Missouri in the division, but the Tigers are one game up in the loss column with toss-up affairs at Texas A&M and Tennessee and versus Arkansas still looming. Georgia still has to play at Kentucky and versus Auburn in SEC play.

It is not (even close to) a lock to reach Atlanta.


East Carolina

When you're right, you're right. And in this case (finally!) I was right.

I spent the entire week before this game honking about East Carolina's fraudulence, specifically the fact that it had not played a single team with a winning record after nine weeks. Temple was its first, and the Owls capitalized with a 21-10 win in the early afternoon.

ECU wasn't as quite bad as the final score indicated. It failed to recover any of the game's eight fumbles, a massive statistical anomaly, and outgained Temple by 293 yards. A losing team winning the yardage battle so decisively is almost without precedent, per Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com:

Still, a team worthy of making an Access Bowl would not muster 10 points at Temple. East Carolina was the only Group of Five team in the first CFP rankings, but it will fall (far) out in the second edition.

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Utah vs. Arizona State: Score and Twitter Reaction

The No. 14 Arizona State Sun Devils (7-1, 5-1) survived a scare in overtime on Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona. They beat the No. 17 Utah Utes (6-2, 3-2) 19-16 on a game-winning field goal by Zane Gonzalez to claim first place in the Pac-12 South. 

The Utes had their chance to possess the ball first in overtime, but the usually dependable Andy Phillips missed the go-ahead field goal to the left of the upright. The official miss was Phillips' second chance to put his team ahead in the extra session.

Moments before he hooked the attempt to the left, he missed wide right. However, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham called timeout just before Phillips badly missed the first attempt.

Gonzalez's 30-yard attempt from the right mark was true, and it delivered the Sun Devils the win. 

While Phillips' miss will likely be the most talked about issue amongst Utes fans, it's hard to win when a team can muster only 184 yards of total offense. John Coon of AP Sports and Max Preps agrees.

The game was a defensive struggle throughout. The Sun Devils defense gave Utah quarterback Travis Wilson fits. Wilson completed 12 of 22 passes for just 57 yards and a score. He was under duress much of the night and never established any rhythm with his receivers.

Whittingham rode his stud running back Devontae Booker hard. He had 37 carries total, but his 146 yards on the ground weren't enough to deliver the win. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly was solid. He completed 18 of 32 passes for 205 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Demario Richard led Arizona State's ground game with 108 yards.

If the season ended today, the Sun Devils would take on the No. 5 Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 title game, per ESPN's Dave Lombardi.

The team still has a ways to go before it can look ahead to that potentially epic showdown.

It will take on the Oregon State Beavers and Washington State Cougars in the next two weeks before battling the rival No. 12 Arizona Wildcats in the regular-season finale. That game could ultimately decide which team heads to the conference championship game from the Pac-12 South.

The Utes aren't totally out of it.

They too have a battle with Arizona remaining as well as matchups against the Stanford Cardinal and the Colorado Buffaloes. More than likely, the Utes will need to win out and receive some help if they hope to have the chance to play for a conference title.


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Arizona vs. UCLA: Game Grades, Analysis for the Wildcats and Bruins

The UCLA Bruins got off to a slow start offensively with only three points at halftime, but the two touchdowns in the second half proved to be the difference.

Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley had arguably his best outing of the season, throwing for 189 yards and adding 131 on the ground.

UCLA's defense really set the tone, forcing Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon into throwing 30 incompletions on the night. The pressure from the Bruins' front four made it tough for Solomon to ever get anything going.

You can find the box score for the game here, courtesy of NCAA.com.


Game Grades for the UCLA Bruins


Passing Offense

Hundley didn’t take a ton of shots down the field, but he was very efficient overall. He finished 19-of-26 passing, including a 70-yard strike in the second half.


Rushing Offense

The zone read was very effective for the Bruins Saturday night, and Hundley had his best rushing game of the season. The UCLA quarterback finished with 131 yards on the ground, leading all rushers.

The ability to run the ball allowed UCLA to control the clock and also sustain drives, which in effect kept Arizona’s offense on the sidelines.


Pass Defense

The Bruins made things tough on Solomon by getting pressure on him. The Arizona quarterback didn’t throw for many yards because of the amount of pressure.

He finished the game 18-of-48 passing, so it was a good night for UCLA’s secondary.


Run Defense

The Wildcats spent the fourth quarter in catch-up mode, so the run totals aren’t going to be as high. The credit has to go to UCLA’s defense, though, which held Arizona to just 80 yards on the ground.


Special Teams

UCLA missed a field goal, but the punting is what gives the special teams a high grade. Matt Mengel booted six punts inside the 20-yard line Saturday night.



The coaching was excellent from head coach Jim Mora and his staff. The crowd didn’t like the decisions to punt the ball at times, but Mora knew what his defense was capable of, and he didn’t put his offense in bad situations.


Game Grades for the Arizona Wildcats


Passing Offense

Solomon will likely want to forget the night he had Saturday against UCLA. The freshman was 18-of-48 passing and also threw an interception. He ended up with 175 yards, but some of those were in the fourth quarter when the game was pretty much decided.


Rushing Offense

The Wildcats couldn’t get much going on the ground either. As a team, they only averaged 2.6 yards per carry, rushing for 80 total yards. Arizona running back Terris Jones-Grigsby led the rushing attack with 50 yards on 11 carries. The ability to run the football could have helped Arizona pick up first downs, but it couldn’t get it going.


Pass Defense

Hundley was able to complete 73 percent of his passes, and he connected on a 70-yard pass in the second half. I gave Arizona an average grade here because Hundley only threw for 189 yards.


Run Defense

The Wildcats allowed 271 yards rushing on 59 carries Saturday night, which came out to an average of 4.6 yards per carry. Hundley led all rushers with 131 yards, but UCLA running back Paul Perkins was also able to hurt them with 78 yards and a touchdown.


Special Teams

Not much went right for the Wildcats Saturday night, including special teams. The final field-goal attempt was blocked, which would have made it a one-possession game. Casey Skowron also missed another kick in this one.



It’s hard to blame it all on the coaches, but ultimately Arizona’s staff didn’t have any adjustments for what UCLA brought defensively. The Wildcats were unable to consistently move the ball, and the defense gave up some big plays also.

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Arizona vs. UCLA: Game Grades, Analysis for the Wildcats and Bruins

The UCLA Bruins got off to a slow start offensively with only three points at halftime, but the two touchdowns in the second half proved to be the difference...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

The Most Heartbreaking Loss You Will See All Year

Your heart aches for Ole Miss. It doesn’t matter if your rooting interests lie in Oxford, Mississippi, Starkville, Mississippi, Auburn, Alabama or another geographical location entirely. This was an emotional gut punch that will linger for some time.

As we were reminded again—right around the moment Laquon Treadwell hit the ground in pain, making it clear something was deeply wrong—college football, for all its bliss, can be a cruel, soul-crushing experience.

On Saturday evening, as Auburn all but eliminated the Rebels from the postseason in a way that we may never truly understand, it did just that.

The matchup between Ole Miss and Auburn was billed as an elimination game, a tussle between two playoff teams—No. 3 and No. 4, according to the College Football Playoff selection committee. With one loss apiece, this was all about staying alive for another week while operating in the nation’s most grueling division. 

As a result, expectations were enormous. Although these types of games are often met with a resounding thud, this was different. This was superb. Each team grabbed hold of the momentum at various times in the game, and the scoreboard operators worked up a good sweat as a result.

The offensive talent—the wideouts in particular—shined throughout much of the evening. Future NFL players delivered NFL-level plays, and the back and forth between the two SEC West juggernauts had the feeling of a heavyweight fight. 

Auburn dealt with penalty yards in mass—145 to be exact—while Ole Miss battled its way back after each and every Tiger score. Despite its imperfect blueprint, the game was everything we looked for. It even set up the kind of finish we crave.

After Cameron Artis-Payne found the end zone for the Tigers in the fourth quarter, putting his team up 35-31, Ole Miss mounted a response, the latest in a run of many for the night. The drive was coming together brilliantly, the tension was remarkable, and then everything changed on one unassuming screen pass.

If you’re looking for the play itself, you won’t find it here. If you watched the game, you know precisely why. One replay was more than enough; none would have been ideal.

Laquon Treadwell’s 19-yard reception with less than two minutes remaining looked as though it would put Ole Miss ahead yet again. As Treadwell athletically maneuvered past the Auburn defense, however, he was grabbed from behind and came down awkwardly as he crossed the goal line. 

The ball came out and Auburn recovered, although the call was ruled a touchdown as Treadwell hit the ground in pain. As replays were shown, two things became painfully apparent for the Ole Miss faithful a) Treadwell didn’t cross the goal line before fumbling, thus giving Auburn the ball and b) his season was over.

His lower leg crumbled in a way no body part should ever move. As the review took place, players gathered around the freakish talent before he was carted off. When Treadwell was finally being carried away on the cart, the officials announced the fumble.

You will find few football moments more gut-wrenching than this: the timing nearly as punishing as the event itself. 

Auburn took over, and although Ole Miss got the ball back in good field position with less than a minute remaining, it was unable to move the ball much at all. The clock hit zero, and Auburn prevailed 35-31.

As a result, the Tigers’ College Football Playoff hopes are more than just alive. They are in prime position for a final stretch run, although meaningful games still remain. For Ole Miss, the outlook isn’t nearly as favorable. To re-enter this playoff conversation, the Rebels will require a minor football miracle.

Following the game, Hugh Freeze—even without full knowledge of the injury—provided an update on one of the nation’s premier offensive talents. 

"He definitely has a fracture," Freeze told Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledgeron Treadwell. "It was obvious, even to me. I don't know anything other than that. I can't tell you all the details of it."

His season appears to be over, and Ole Miss will have to reshuffle its expectations entirely. Having covered the full spectrum of football emotions in a calendar month, following its perception-altering win over Alabama in Oxford, the surreal scene feels like ancient history now.

The latest loss, regardless of how it occurred, shouldn’t take anything away from what the Rebels have accomplished up until this point. It also shouldn’t put a damper on what could still be one of the most successful years in the history of the program. 

Ole Miss has proven to be much more than a good story, and various moments that could have gone its way in the past 120 minutes simply did not. There is optimism to be found in all of this, even now, although you can’t help but wonder what might have been.

This is a different kind of disappointment, one that reaches beyond the usual talking points. It starts with the health of one of the nation’s brightest stars, although the impact on the postseason and the bigger picture is undeniable. In many ways, these are intertwined.

In one play—roughly 15 or so seconds—the landscape shifted. And as it did, college football reminded us of the kind of heartbreak it's capable of.

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Notre Dame Football: What Everett Golson Can Improve Down the Stretch

In a game full of deep breaths and exhales for Notre Dame football fans, Irish quarterback Everett Golson provided a great performance in Notre Dame’s 49-39 win over Navy on Saturday night.

Golson and the Irish escaped Landover, Maryland, with the 10-point victory to improve to 7-1. After the Midshipmen scored 24 consecutive points heading into the fourth quarter, Notre Dame held on for the win. Golson accounted for six touchdowns—three on the ground and three through the air—and completed 18 of 25 passes for 315 yards. Golson was the steady rock for the Irish in a game that felt uncertain, to say the least.

Everett Golson with the first three-rushing TD & three-passing TD game in Notre Dame history. #Torbinformed#BertschyBitsSub

— Leigh Torbin (@LTorbin) November 2, 2014

#NotreDame QB Everett Golson joined Trevor Knight today as the only players this year with 3 passing and 3 rushing TDs in a game.

— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) November 2, 2014

Let's get this out of the way: Golson was outstanding against Navy. Given the defense's struggles at various points in the season, and the injuries that cropped up Saturday night, Golson and the offense could very well be needed to carry Notre Dame down the stretch.

#NotreDame holding its breath on Joe Schmidt's status after ankle injury -- http://t.co/4KOGdfNeVR

— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) November 2, 2014

It wasn't pretty but Notre Dame walks away with the W. Irish hold on 49-39. #NDvsNAVYpic.twitter.com/rhmhVtlqkk

Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) November 2, 2014

FINAL: Notre Dame 49, Navy 39. Now let us never speak of this again.

— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) November 2, 2014

So where can the Heisman Trophy candidate improve over these final four regular-season contests? As it has the entire season, it comes down to taking care of the ball.

Golson, who entered Saturday’s game with 10 turnovers in his last four games, only tossed an interception toward the end of the first half—one for which Irish head coach Brian Kelly took the blame and one that might have been more the fault of receiver Amir Carlisle. Still, the blemish turned into seven Navy points and momentum for the Midshipmen entering the second half, after which they’d get the ball back and march on a 15-play scoring drive.

Brian Kelly on the Everett Golson interception before halftime: That's just a bad call on my part. #NDvsNAVY

— Michael Bertsch (@NDsidBertschy) November 2, 2014

Golson did almost cough up a fumble in the red zone in the game’s final minutes, losing his grip as he appeared prepared to hand the ball off to running back Tarean Folston. It was one minor miscue, yes, not even a full-fledged turnover. He, of course, turned it into a touchdown.

Ball security will be essential for Golson in the four remaining regular-season games. He let much of Saturday’s game come to him, making the plays when they opened up en route to the gaudy stats.

Fumble? No problem. Everett Golson scored on this play. #NDvsNAVYpic.twitter.com/xjZH2oY9lY

— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 2, 2014

Golson was sharp and steady Saturday. He made the game look easy in a game that was anything but. If he can continue on this path—with a slightly tighter grip on the football—he'll be primed to take the Irish as far as they can go.


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Arizona vs. UCLA: Score and Twitter Reaction

Few teams have run hot and cold more so than UCLA. One week, the Bruins beat Arizona State 62-27 and the next, they lose at home to Utah. That Jekyll-and-Hyde nature was on display Saturday night.

After underwhelming in the first half against No. 12 Arizona, No. 22 UCLA dominated the second half and upset the Wildcats, 17-7, in the Rose Bowl.

Coming into the game, Bruins head coach Jim Mora talked about his team's consistency issues and how sometimes the players are lacking focus. From there, he veered off into a critique on society in general, per Everett Cook of the Los Angeles Times:

This generation is so easily distracted, because of all the access to the Internet and Facebook and Twitter. When we were kids, you had to think about stuff. Nowadays, I don’t know that kids have to think about things for as long as we used to have to. So my point to them is put that stuff away and think about what we’re doing here. Don’t go immediately to a distraction. When we have a practice, think about what happened in the practice instead of going and picking up your photo and looking at the latest Instagram photo. That’s a challenge with this generation.

Whether or not Mora's words sunk in is anybody's guess, but UCLA had one of its more impressive performances of the season on Saturday night.

The Bruins shot themselves in the foot with penalties, racking up 118 yards on 11 flags, but that proved to be a non-factor in large part because the UCLA defense held Arizona to 255 yards as a team. Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon had an awful night, going 18-of-48 for 175 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

He was under constant pressure from the Bruins' front seven, seemingly having to scramble on every down. Sports reporter Jackie Mesa Pepper felt that it was probably a better idea to stay silent about the Wildcats' weak pass protection:

Arizona had no running game to speak of, either. Terris Jones-Grigsby led the team with 50 yards on 11 carries.

The UCLA offense struggled to find the end zone, but the Bruins amassed 46 total yards, 320 of which were courtesy of Brett Hundley. The star quarterback had 189 passing yards and a touchdown in addition to 131 rushing yards.

The general theme for the Pac-12 this year has been chaos, and once again, the conference watched on as one of its top playoff contenders fell. CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli joked that the Bruins were only there to throw a monkey wrench in the Pac-12's plans:

UCLA often goes as far as Hundley can carry it, and in the first two quarters, he wasn't able to carry the Bruins very far.

The first half was a defensive battle, which came as a surprise considering the two teams were combining to average 76 points a game.

Solomon struggled mightily, going 4-of-14 for 30 yards. He added 29 yards on the ground to somewhat cover up his problems through the air. Jones-Grigsby chipped in 31 rushing yards of his own.

On the other side, Hundley didn't fare much better. While the Bruins star was efficient through the air, completing 10 of his 14 passes, he only managed 65 passing yards. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah was critical of Hundley's pocket presence, which has been an ongoing issue throughout the year:

Arizona broke the deadlock in the first quarter with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Solomon to wideout Cayleb Jones. The Wildcats received a nice boost on the drive in the form of 30 penalty yards courtesy of UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, per Ryan Kartje of the Orange County Register:

In the second quarter, Ka'imi Fairbairn connected with a 24-yard field goal to cut the deficit to four points, 7-3, for the Bruins. He'd missed a 37-yarder a drive earlier.

As bad as the UCLA offense looked in the first half, Arizona was even worse. The Wildcats punted on five straight possessions, failing to do anything with their slim lead.

That haunted 'Zona in the second half when the UCLA offense awoke from its slumber.

Running back Paul Perkins handed the Bruins their first lead of the game with a five-yard touchdown run in the third quarter:

After a three-and-out from the Arizona offense, Hundley hit wide receiver Jordan Payton for a 70-yard pitch-and-catch to increase UCLA's lead to 10 points, 17-7 (via Pac-12 Networks):

Hundley tied Cade McNown's school record for touchdown passes in the process:

That TD proved to be enough for the Bruins. Arizona failed to build any sort of momentum offensively, quickly giving the ball back to UCLA and in turn wearing down the defense. Solomon in particular looked lost.

A Hundley fumble in the fourth quarter opened the door slightly for 'Zona, but a blocked 26-yard field goal with two minutes to play was the death knell for the Wildcats.

UCLA has three winnable games ahead, but the Bruins are still outside favorites to make the Pac-12 championship. To have any hope of doing so, they'll have to beat Washington on the road and the combination of USC and Stanford at home.

This is Arizona's second conference loss of the season, so the Wildcats are in the same boat. They have Colorado, Washington, Utah and Arizona State all to come.

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Tennessee vs. South Carolina: Game Grades, Analysis for Vols and Gamecocks

The Tennessee Volunteers defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks 45-42 in overtime Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium after the Gamecocks missed a 58-yard field goal.

The Vols jumped out to an early 21-14 lead heading into halftime, but the third quarter was all Gamecocks.

After tying the game and boosting their own lead to 42-28, the Gamecocks defense started to crumble in the fourth quarter as sophomore Tennessee quarterback led the Vols to two scoring drives with just a little under five minutes left on the clock.

The final Tennessee score in regulation came with 11 seconds left to send the game into overtime. From there, Tennessee made a short field goal, then sacked Dylan Thompson twice to send the Gamecocks backwards and force the missed 58-yard field goal.

Here are halftime and final game grades for both teams in tonight's high-scoring matchup based on NCAA.com statistics


Tennessee Volunteers Game Grades

Position UnitsFirst-Half GradesFinal Grades Passing Offense B- A- Pass Defense B D- Rushing Offense A A Rush Defense B+ D- Special Teams D B Coaching C- A


Passing Offense

Josh Dobbs was effective passing the ball in the first half, but he really came alive in the second half. 

Two clutch completions to Pig Howard in the middle of the field during Tennessee's final drive of regulation—as well as a touchdown dart to Jason Croom in the end zone to tie the game with 11 seconds left in regulation—were all incredible plays that required Dobbs to utilize his mobility and step into his throws.


Pass Defense

The Vols held Dylan Thompson in check for the majority of the first half, but Pharoh Cooper managed to break loose in the Tennessee secondary early in the fourth quarter for an 85-yard touchdown pass.

The breakdown in the Tennessee defensive backfield was nearly enough to put the game out of reach for the Gamecocks and can't happen again if the Vols want to win out and make a bowl game.


Rushing Offense

Tennessee's offense looked similar to Auburn's in 2013 as the Vols ran the ball seemingly at will on the Gamecocks defense. The Vols finished the game with 344 yards rushing, and both Jalen Hurd and Dobbs topped the 100-yard mark by the end of the game. 


Rush Defense

South Carolina's running game was nearly nonexistent in the first half, but a 70-yard Brandon Wilds touchdown with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter to put the Gamecocks up by two touchdowns was almost enough to seal the victory. 

Without such a massive breakdown late in the game, the Vols could have had the opportunity to win the game in regulation, given the way Dobbs was playing at the time.


Special Teams

Two missed field goals and a few very short punts nearly spelled disaster for Tennessee early in the game, but kicker Aaron Medley came through in the clutch by nailing a 32-yard field goal in overtime to seal Tennessee's win.

Medley's kick was especially impressive considering his two previous misses up to that point.



The Vols had a chance to blow the game open in the first half, but a few questionable play calls and decisions to kick field goals when the running game was gashing South Carolina for big yards allowed the Gamecocks to get back in it in the second half.

However, Tennessee's coaches deserve a lot of credit for not letting the team give up late in the fourth as Dobbs rallied the offense to tie the game and the defense pushed South Carolina back out of field-goal range. 


South Carolina Gamecocks Game Grades

Position UnitsFirst-Half GradesFinal Grades Rushing Offense C- B Rush Defense F F Passing Offense B A Pass Defense C D Special Teams D D Coaching C D


Rushing Offense

The Gamecocks couldn't get much going on the ground in the first half. In fact, they had to rely almost entirely on Dylan Thompson and Pharoh Cooper to generate yardage.

However, the rushing game opened up in the second half with Brandon Wilds' long run, and the Gamecocks finished the game with 248 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground.


Rush Defense

South Carolina simply couldn't stop Dobbs or Hurd on the ground. Both players ran the ball with seemingly no opposition, breaking tackles and gaining huge chunks of yards on the majority of their carries.

This unit's breakdown was especially disastrous in the fourth quarter when both Dobbs and Hurd had big runs to either score or set up touchdowns.


Passing Offense

Like he has been all season, Dylan Thompson was exceptional tonight against a fairly stout Tennessee passing defense. Aside from an interception early in the first quarter that led to a Vols touchdown, Thompson took care of the football and made plays through the air.

In most circumstances, his 347 yards passing and two touchdowns, as well as Pharoh Cooper's touchdown pass on a trick play, would be enough to win the game.


Pass Defense

Dobbs wasn't much of a threat through the air in the first half and was putting up fairly pedestrian stats due to South Carolina's defensive backfield.

However, this unit started giving up huge chunks of yardage late in the second half, none more painful than the long completions to Pig Howard that eventually led to Tennessee touchdowns. Dobbs finished with more than 300 yards through the air and two touchdowns despite a relatively weak first half passing the ball.


Special Teams

It was a fairly quiet night for South Carolina's special teams unit. Nothing stood out particularly good or bad, aside from an early missed field goal by kicker Elliot Fry.

Fry's 58-yard attempt in overtime can hardly be blamed on him, as it was a desperation move by Steve Spurrier and likely well outside of his normal range.



The Gamecocks executed their game plan to perfection all night except when it counted the most.

To give up a 14-point lead with less than five minutes left on the clock at home is bad enough, but South Carolina has done this all season long. 

It's up to the coaches to keep their players' heads in the game even with a big lead, and they didn't do that tonight. Ultimately, it cost them the win. 

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Quarterback Josh Dobbs Gives Tennessee Volunteers Chance to Win Out in 2014

Not only has Tennessee found its quarterback of the future in sophomore Josh Dobbs, but also the catalyst who could elevate the Volunteers to a 7-5 football record this year.

The dual-threat signal-caller had a game for the ages in his first start of the season Saturday night. He willed UT back from two touchdowns down with less than four minutes remaining to shock South Carolina 45-42 in overtime.

With the Vols trailing by a score with no timeouts and 1:24 left, Dobbs completed five of his eight attempts for 77 yards and scrambled to find Jason Croom for a nine-yard touchdown that tied the game with an extra point and sent it into overtime.

"We knew if we got the ball back and the defense left any time on the clock, we'd score," Dobbs told The Vol Network's Tim Priest in the postgame radio show, "and we did that."

Added UT coach Butch Jones to GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

Freshman kicker Aaron Medley nailed a 32-yard field goal to put the Vols ahead in the extra session, then Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett sacked Dylan Thompson on consecutive plays to push the Gamecocks back.

Carolina wound up attempting a 58-yard field goal that was nowhere close, and the Vols celebrated an improbable win.

The centerpiece of it all was Dobbs, the quirky, aerospace-engineering major whose ability may be as big as his brain.

Like he'd done all night, Dobbs gutted South Carolina's porous defense on that final drive. 

In a sensational individual effort, he set the all-time single-game UT rushing record with 166 yards, breaking Jimmy Streater's mark of 106 set in 1979 against Auburn.

He also completed 23 of 40 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns to go along with his three rushing scores. 

Thousands of UT fans used to gut-wrenching losses watched as the Vols got the ball back in regulation with a sliver of hope, expecting them to botch another opportunity like they'd done so many times during these wretched years.

But Dobbs wouldn't allow it.

He made play after play, and his teammates followed suit, elevating their play to match his.

First, freshman running back Jalen Hurd—who had his own incredible effort with 183 total yards—scored on a spinning, tackle-breaking 4th-and-6 play from 21 yards out to keep UT in the game in the fourth quarter.

Though Pig Howard and Croom have been overshadowed this year, they were two of UT's biggest weapons in the receiving corps throughout a fast and furious fourth quarter.

Then, after the Vols defense had struggled to do anything all night, Maggitt got his second sack on the first defensive play of overtime. Barnett followed that with his third, and UT made every single play when it had to.

"Resilient; great composure at the end," UT head coach Butch Jones told SEC Network's Heather Mitts amid the postgame celebration. "We knew we were going to win the game all week. It was just a confidence that we had all week in our preparation, and it was like slow motion. We just knew we'd find a way to win the football game.

"We needed this. Vol Nation needed this."

Dobbs made it all click. 

Without him lined up in the shotgun through the season's first seven games, UT's offense was a sluggish, stagnant unit that couldn't get out of its own way. The statuesque Justin Worley couldn't move the pocket and was an easy target behind an offensive line that couldn't block.

Now that Dobbs is there, the Vols offense improved drastically against Alabama and was unstoppable against South Carolina, rolling up 645 yards and 35 first downs. Now, hope springs eternal.

The Gamecocks had no answer for Dobbs.

One minute, he took a designed quarterback run 36 yards to the house on a 4th-and-3 to end the first half. The next, he hit Howard on a rocketed crossing pattern or dropped a beautiful 42-yard strike to Von Pearson.

Dobbs saved his calmness and brilliance, however, for when the game on the line. He completed passes, extended plays, ran for key first downs and led the team to touchdowns.

He refused to lose again, displaying the type of leadership necessary to be a difference-making quarterback in the nation's toughest conference.

With his teammates on the other side of the football down and out, Dobbs kept encouraging them, telling them to just get the ball back with time on the clock, and he'd win the game.

The Vols made Dobbs' words stand, and the celebration was on.

Jones actually lost his composure for a few minutes in the postgame locker room, dancing with his players. UT football's official Twitter account captured Jones in a lighthearted moment after Dobbs' performance allowed him to let loose after such a pressing two years on Rocky Top.

A bye week comes at a critical time for UT, just in time for the Vols to devise a game plan to play Kentucky and Missouri in Neyland Stadium, followed by a season-ending showdown against Vanderbilt in Nashville. If the Vols win two of three, they'll go bowling for the first time since 2010.

Every one of UT's remaining games is meaningful, but there is at least some wiggle room for a potential loss where none would've existed had the Vols fallen Saturday night. 

Kentucky is a more complete team than it's been since Andre' Woodson played for the Wildcats. Suddenly, Maty Mauk and Mizzou are 7-2 and leading the SEC East despite a slow start. The Vols have to get at least one of those games to go along with what should be a win over rival Vanderbilt on the road.

But nobody is thinking about that now. With Dobbs playing the way he is, there's no reason why the Vols can't run the table.

After all hope seemed lost as the Williams-Brice Stadium game clock ticked down to the four-minute mark in regulation, Dobbs willed the Vols to a win. Now, hope could fill Neyland Stadium to capacity.

Seven wins seemed impossible down 27-0 to Alabama a couple weeks back, but once Dobbs entered, everything changed.

He's capable of saving the season and jolting this program into a giant leap forward.


All stats and information taken from UTSports.com.

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

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Texas Offense Wakes Up in Win but Inconsistency Still Plaguing Longhorns

One week after being shutout in the Little Apple against Kansas State, the first shutout suffered since 2004, the Texas Longhorns' offense finally found a bit of swagger against a much weaker Texas Tech, hanging up a 34-13 win against the Red Raiders.

Tyrone Swoopes had arguably his most efficient game of the year, throwing for 228 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-25 passing.

The Longhorns also finally hit their stride on the ground, amassing 241 rushing yards led by Malcolm Brown, who accounted for 116 of them.

But there were still signs of inconsistency, which has been the one consistent aspect for the Longhorns all season.

There were the two turnovers, both fumbles, by Swoopes and wideout Jaxon Shipley.

There was the 5-of-16 third-down conversion rating.

And then there was the simple fact that Texas has yet to put back-to-back positive showings together all year.

Last week, Texas looked like a bottom-feeder of the Big 12 in getting shutout by the Kansas State Wildcats.

This week, they flipped the script on in-state rival Texas Tech, which granted was hindered by the loss of quarterback Davis Webb.

Next week, Texas hosts West Virginia. Will the Mountaineers put Texas back to the page that Kansas State had it on, or the one the Red Raiders seemingly couldn't get past?

Odds seem to favor the former.

The fact of the matter is that Texas, and first-year head coach Charlie Strong, are both huge disappointments in 2014. The Longhorns are just 4-5 this year and need two wins over their last three games against WVU, Oklahoma State and TCU to even earn bowl eligibility.

That's going to be hard to come by the way WVU and TCU have been playing, and Oklahoma State is about on par with Texas this year.

Ultimately, Charlie Strong's approach to cleanse the program from a litany of dismissals and other culture-changing moves are taking their toll in Austin this season.

As Texas looks to rebuild next year, it'll start with finding a quarterback. Everything else should fall into place.

But for 2014, ultimately it's an inconsistent, growing pains type of year.

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Cameron Artis-Payne Proving to Be the Key to Auburn's Playoff Hopes

OXFORD, Miss. — You would probably overlook it on first glance of a game recap or a stat sheet.

No. 3 Auburn's wild 35-31 victory at No. 4 Ole Miss featured more than 400 yards of total offense from Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace, four touchdowns from Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall and perhaps one of the cruelest turnovers in college football history.

But Auburn's victory in Oxford was also marked by another standout performance from senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne, who finished with 143 rushing yards and a touchdown Saturday night.

"We established ourselves up front," Artis-Payne said. "We just wanted to be the more physical team, and I think we did that tonight." 

If Artis-Payne can keep up his high level of performance, he could get the Auburn offense going all the way to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

While quarterback Nick Marshall got the bulk of the deserved attention with his performance against the Rebels, Artis-Payne excelled in several aspects of the Tigers' offensive surge and showed why he could be the one to lead Auburn back to the sport's biggest stage:


Gaining Tough Yards (Especially on Third Down)

Although backups Corey Grant and Roc Thomas have gotten a greater share of the carries than Auburn's reserves did last season, the "running back-by-committee" system has been ruled out by this point in the season. 

Artis-Payne ran for a career-high 27 carries, breaking the mark he set last week in Auburn's 42-35 victory against South Carolina at home.

Malzahn and the coaching staff have given Artis-Payne more responsibility toward the end of a grueling SEC slate for the Tigers, and the senior has returned the favor.

Artis-Payne's big night in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium pushed him to the top of the SEC rushing charts this season after former leader Josh Robinson was held to only 64 yards against Arkansas:

The slow rise up the conference and national leaderboards from the Tigers' top senior running back has been similar to the stride former Auburn star Tre Mason had last season.

"He's just more confident," Malzahn said. "It's kind of similar to Tre last year. He's established himself as one of the better running backs in our league, if not the country."

Artis-Payne became especially important for the Tigers on third downs in the second half of Saturday night's contest.

After the Tigers went 1-of-6 on third down in the first half, they rebounded to convert five of their seven attempts after halftime. Artis-Payne had two of those second-half conversions, including one on a go-ahead drive in the third quarter.

"That was the real big key," Malzahn said. "At halftime, we came in [the locker room] and, you do most of your normal adjustments, but most of our conversations were on third down. They were one of the better third-down defenses in the country."


Versatility in Auburn's Run Game

Artis-Payne said coming into the season that he was trying to shake the image that he was just a "bruiser" of a running back.

Against Ole Miss, he showed he can bounce a few runs to the outside, primarily on the zone-read option, and hurt defenses with some open-field speed.

"You get a feel for the game," Malzahn said. "If you ever have a little success, you just keep trying that same thing for the most part. They've got to come up with an answer to stop you, and then you've got to think of something else. But our guys really got that zone going. We got really good push up front, and Cameron Artis-Payne bounced a few on the perimeter. That really got us going."

Early in the fourth quarter, Artis-Payne took a toss to the right in a modified Wildcat formation down near the goal line for Auburn, and he was able to find the end zone.

"He's a great back," Marshall said. "He basically just takes what the defense gives him. He sees all these little creases, and the offensive line blocked their tails off tonight with the receivers on the perimeter. We were able to make some plays with our legs."

While the Tigers made the defense respect Artis-Payne's ability to find the corner, the Tigers were able to get the yardage they needed down the middle with the senior back.

"That was the plan," Dismukes said. "Just hit a few outside things, and then hit it right at them. I thought we were able to do that well tonight."

As Artis-Payne has showed himself to be a more hard-running and complete back during the second half of the season, Malzahn's play-calling creativity can continue to open up in the final few games of 2014.


Establishing Pace

Of course, the key to success for Malzahn's offense is playing up-tempo football to tire a worn-out defense.

Auburn was able to establish more of a rhythm offensively against the Rebels, who only allowed an average of 118 rushing yards per game heading into Saturday's matchup, than it had earlier in the season.

The Tigers continued to get chunks of yardage downfield with Marshall and big-play receivers Sammie Coates and D'haquille Williams, but in the crucial "in-between" plays, Artis-Payne was able to get solid yards to keep Auburn operating at the highest speed possible.

"It was one of the best games we've had [for pace]," Malzahn said. "To run the football on that defense in the third quarter like we did, I was impressed with our guys up front and our running backs."

After the game, Ole Miss linebacker Serderius Bryant credited the pace of Auburn's offense as a game-changing aspect.

"You have to take your hats off to that offense," Bryant said. "We had a pretty good game plan coming in to it, but they found little creases in it to gash us. They were going so fast. Before you know it, you’ve already run four plays in just a few seconds."

Artis-Payne's stamina and increased burst near the line of scrimmage can keep Malzahn's offense going at its explosive best, which will be important on the road against SEC rivals Georgia and Alabama.

"I feel like I'm getting more comfortable in seeing things better," Artis-Payne said. "Knowing what to expect and knowing you're going to be in the game...I'm just hitting that stride."

And for Auburn fans, they hope Artis-Payne can keep that stride going all the way to Athens, Tuscaloosa and beyond. 


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

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

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