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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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

 

Coaching

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.

 

Coaching

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. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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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Close Games, Trial by Fire Just What Young Notre Dame Defense Needs

Looking for style points? Hoping to impress the selection committee? 

You've come to the wrong place. 

On Saturday night, Notre Dame did everything it could to be a hospitable foe to the Naval Academy. Everett Golson's gift-wrapped interception before halftime kept the Midshipmen alive. A lackluster third quarter gave the Irish a scare and pushed Navy ahead. And Notre Dame blew two fourth-quarter scoring opportunities when even getting a field goal would've finally buried the Midshipmen. 

But while a 49-39 victory over Navy won't do anything to impress the selection committee, it did move the Irish forward this season. Giving up 39 points and 336 yards on the ground is a funny way to show improvement on the defensive side of the ball, but there's a silver lining after watching the Irish's battered and bruised defense compete in the fourth quarter. 

Many wondered how Brian VanGorder planned on attacking the Navy triple option. And if you were the one that predicted Greer Martini, Nyles Morgan and James Onwualu being critical pieces, run to 7-Eleven a pick up some lotto tickets. 

We took a time machine into the future of Notre Dame's defense Saturday night. And it revealed some really impressive play by the next generation of VanGorder's troops.

There were plenty of mistakes. And assignment football certainly took a beating against Keenan Reynolds and Ken Niumatalolo's triple-option attack. But when push came to shove, a defense filled with kids and afterthoughts took Navy's best punch down the stretch and came out a victor. 

Earlier this week, most thought Brian Kelly's admiration of Navy was lip service or spin control after an underwhelming initial ranking in the first College Football Playoff poll. But after rolling to 215 yards in the first quarter and jumping out to a 28-7 lead, the Irish gave Navy the one break they needed. And when they came up for breath, Notre Dame was losing 31-28. 

Things looked bleak. Nose tackle Jarron Jones was on and off the field all night with injuries. Sheldon Day and James Onwualu went down after a nasty collision chasing Reynolds. And most serious of all, the Irish are looking at life without Joe Schmidt, with the heart of the Irish defense suffering an ankle injury that looks to be significant—Schmidt had an air cast on and needed crutches on the sideline.

But blue-chipper Nyles Morgan went in at middle linebacker and immediately showed the kind of promise that made him a critical recruit in February. While it forced the Irish to simplify their defensive attack, the true freshman flashed some incredible athleticism and made some bone-crunching collisions as he made four key tackles, including one TFL down the stretch.

He certainly made some mistakes—with Navy's late touchdown and two-point conversion likely blown assignments for the young linebacker. But after playing exclusively special teams this season, Morgan showed a comfort level making plays that give you a glimpse at his promising future. 

If Morgan's performance was a surprise, Martini's was a shocker. With Jaylon Smith moved outside to the edge, it was Martini who played inside from the start. His nine tackles led the Irish and confirmed Kelly's praise for the heady nature of the unheralded linebacker. 

Looking for another reason to trust Brian Kelly's recruiting acumen? Martini may have been one of the lowest-ranked recruits in last year's class, but he was the Irish staff's first commitment. Coupled with 3-star safety Drue Tranquill, who made five tackles, Kelly's ability to get production out of both Army All-Americans and afterthoughts explains quite a bit. 

The glass-half-empty crew will get plenty of ammo from Saturday night's roller coaster. After looking solid as tacklers early, safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate struggled with assignment football, flashing late and struggling to get to the pitch man. Even though job No. 1 is stopping the fullback, Noah Copeland ran for 138 yards on just 16 carries. 

The Irish pass coverage also had its failures, with Keenan Reynolds able to hit an early touchdown pass and keep drives alive through the air as well as the run. And Navy just missed a potential game changer when Reynolds could reel in Copeland's pass that could've served as a dagger.  

But on a night when the Irish could've seen their playoff hopes go up in flames, they got out of FedExField alive. And they called on some unlikely heroes to get the job done.

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Can J.T. Barrett Put Struggles Against Good Teams Behind Him vs. Michigan State?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the one half that he did play on Saturday, J.T. Barrett looked like his old self. Pinpointing passes and taking what the defense gave him on the ground, you would have never known that the Ohio State quarterback was nursing a sprained MCL while leading the Buckeyes to a 55-14 blowout victory over Illinois.

But while Barrett bounced back from his uninspiring outing in Happy Valley last weekend, there's no telling what that means for next week's mega matchup with Michigan State. That's because a large part of the freshman signal-caller's success on Saturday stemmed from the incompetence of the Fighting Illini, who put up less of a fight than any opponent that the Buckeyes have played so far this year.

That's saying something when you look at the opponents that Barrett has faced thus far this season, which has seen him light up lesser opponents and struggle against the stouter ones. Against Navy, Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, Rutgers and Illinois, Barrett has totaled 1,914 total yards and 24 touchdowns, numbers that at one point placed him in discussion for the Heisman Trophy.

But in Barrett's only two true tests, he's been significantly less impressive, completing just nine of 29 pass attempts in Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech and throwing for just 74 yards in last weekend's double-overtime win against Penn State. And there won't be a bigger test that Barrett takes this season than next Saturday, heading on the road for a prime-time showdown against the Spartans' top-five defense.

"It's a real one. This is why you come to Ohio State," Barrett said. "To go play Michigan State at Michigan State."

No, Barrett won't be able to get away with playing just a half as he did on Saturday, totaling 205 yards and two touchdowns as the Buckeyes jumped out to a 31-0 first-half lead over the undermanned Illini. Rather, Ohio State is going to need the Wichita Falls, Texas, native's best effort in East Lansing, in a contest that will serve as a de facto Big Ten East Championship Game.

That, of course, will be easier said than done against a Michigan State squad that has only surrendered an average of 284.4 yards per game to opponents and will be well-rested and well-prepared coming off of a bye.

The Spartans may not be as strong defensively as they were a season ago when they beat the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game, but they are the best opponent on Ohio State's schedule this season, which doesn't bode well for the Buckeyes given Barrett's inconsistencies against the Hokies and Nittany Lions.

Only next Saturday will give Barrett the opportunity to change that narrative, in a game that will be billed as a battle between the Big Ten's two best. Ever since last year's conference championship outcome, all roads in Columbus have led to East Lansing, a chance for revenge against the team that thwarted Ohio State's national title chances a season ago.

"Obviously, the dream was ripped away from us," said OSU head coach Urban Meyer. "This is a motivated team."

And although losses on Sept. 6 by both teams may have threatened the importance of next Saturday, both the Spartans and Buckeyes have bounced back with six straight wins apiece. With MSU ranked eighth and Ohio State 16th in last week's College Football Playoff committee poll, there will be plenty on the line in Spartan Stadium next Saturday beyond a likely second straight trip to Indianapolis.

"Whoever wins this game is probably going to go on and play for the Big Ten championship," Barrett admitted. "It's a big game."

Having blown out five of their past six opponents with an evidently improved defense and a plethora of emerging playmakers, the Buckeyes look like a team that's firing on all cylinders just at the right time. But make no mistake about it, Ohio State's success next Saturday will come down to Barrett, who insists that he's prepared for the most important game of his young college career.

"Now it's here. Now it's time to talk about it," Barrett said. "They got us last year in the Big Ten Championship Game. Now it's kind of time for revenge."

 

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

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College Football Playoff Rankings: Biggest Takeaways from Week 10

How many SEC teams will be in the inaugural College Football Playoff? One? Two?

How about zero?

After Saturday, that prospect is becoming a possibility. To be sure, it's a long shot, but that scenario can no longer be ruled out completely.

Georgia's shocking blowout loss to Florida at the annual Cocktail Party brings home the stark reality that the SEC East is filled with second-rate also-rans. For all the talk that the SEC West might be the best division in football, the SEC can't be credibly called the best conference when half of it is but a sad clown show.

And the clowns might very well make more mess of it if they pull out a miracle win under the big top of the Georgia Dome. Missouri, a loser to Big Ten bottom feeder Indiana at home, now leads the SEC East. What if the Tigers shock a one-loss SEC West champ in the conference title game?

Or a two-loss SEC West champ. With Ole Miss' gut-wrenching loss to Auburn, a plausible scenario exists for a five-way tie in the SEC West with each team tagged with two losses. All that takes is this: Mississippi State loses to Alabama and Ole Miss, plus Alabama loses to LSU but beats Auburn—if all five teams involved here win their other remaining games.

That being the case, Ole Miss and LSU are still alive in the playoff chase, along with 11 other one-loss teams and, of course, undefeated Mississippi State and Florida State.

 

Teams That Moved Up

TCU

Jaden Oberkrom's 37-yard field goal as time expired gave the Horned Frogs a 31-30 win at West Virginia and kept them in the playoff chase. As of now, TCU should be in the four-team playoff field if it can win its remaining games, beginning with next week's showdown against Kansas State.

Alabama

Auburn's dramatic win over Ole Miss was good for the Tigers, but great for their cross-state rival Alabama. The Crimson Tide now control their own fate in the SEC West as they will claim the division title if they win out. But they should take nothing for granted as they'll visit Death Valley for a dreaded night game next Saturday.

Oregon

The Ducks got their cathartic win over the kryptonite that kept them from the Pac-12 title game the past two seasons. Oregon's pasting of Stanford put it another step closer to the Pac-12 North title and kept it on track for a playoff berth.

Florida State

The Seminoles' furious comeback win Thursday night against Louisville will be good enough to keep them at No. 2. Now that we know how the committee operates, the defending national champs just need to win out and should be no worse than the No. 2 seed. Style points are now irrelevant for FSU.

 

Teams That Moved Down

SEC East

Georgia's loss not only finished the Bulldogs' hopes of landing a surprise playoff spot, it completely discredited the entire division. Missouri is now the division leader, but it still needs to beat two SEC West teams—even if they're bottom feeders Texas A&M and Arkansas—to repeat as the SEC East champion.

Notre Dame

The Irish did hold on to beat Navy after giving up 24 consecutive points to fall behind briefly. But with the committee already not holding it in the highest esteem, Notre Dame's close win will not help its cause much. Given what's left on their schedule, the Irish need quite a bit of help to get into the playoff field.

The American

In the span of two early-afternoon games, the American played itself right out of contention for a spot in a New Year's Six bowl game. East Carolina was dismal in its loss to Temple and then Central Florida was beaten by a UConn team that had one win entering the game. Now neither team is in the hunt.

Pac-12

There were six Pac-12 games on Saturday, three started after 10 p.m. ET, when most of the East Coast fans have gone to bed. Two others were televised on the Pac-12 Network, which is available to scant few people outside of the Pac-12 footprint (and not carried by DirecTV three years running). For a conference constantly griping about lack of respect, its TV deal is not helping its teams' cause.

 

Group-of-Five Team in the Best Position

East Carolina's loss now puts two teams vying for a spot in the committee's next rankings. Marshall is one of three undefeated teams, but its weak schedule isn't impressing the selection committee. Colorado State has two wins over power-five opponents (Boston College and Colorado) but doesn't control its own fate in the Mountain West race.

The only other team currently in the conversation is Boise State, which has beaten Colorado State and can claim the Mountain Division by winning out. The Broncos have a far better strength of schedule than the other two contenders, but they're being held back by having two losses (to Ole Miss and Air Force).

 

Projected Conference Championship Matchups

ACC: Florida State vs. Duke

Big Ten: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin

Pac-12: Oregon vs. Arizona State

SEC: Mississippi State vs. Missouri

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Oregon Gets Stanford Monkey off Its Back, Can Ducks Avoid Late-Season Letdown?

Three possessions. Three 75-yard touchdown drives. That’s all it took for the Oregon Ducks to rid themselves of the “Stanford Problem."

The Oregon Ducks (8-1, 5-1) took two years of frustration out on the Stanford Cardinal (5-4, 3-3), to the tune of 45-16, and firmly planted themselves in the top four of the College Football Playoff poll. However, the Ducks toughest test of the season may lie ahead.

The Ducks rode a strong running game and the arm of Marcus Mariota all night long as they gained 545 total yards on Stanford. Coming into the night the Cardinal were ranked No. 1 in the country in total defense and had allowed an average of only 250.6 yards per game. The Cardinal were also ranked No. 2 in the country in scoring defense having allowed only 12.5 points per game this season.

Well, Oregon dispelled the idea that Stanford’s D was infallible. The Ducks outpaced Stanford’s average points allowed in the first 8:43 of the first quarter.

While the Oregon offense stalled at times against Washington State and Arizona, they’ve been absolutely unstoppable since left tackle Jake Fisher returned from injury. In four conference games since Fisher returned, the Ducks are averaging 47.7 points per game, and their average margin of victory is 21 points.

The question coming into this game was whether or not Oregon’s offense could finally do damage against a Stanford defense that had dominated them the previous two seasons. They answered that question and a few more with their 45-point performance.

This was the second time that the Ducks have faced a top-five ranked defense this season—the other being Michigan State on Sept. 6. Against the Spartans, who are ranked No. 5 in total defense, the Ducks scored 46 points and gained 491 yards. The Ducks average offensive output against Stanford and Michigan State was 45.5 points and 518 yards of offense. Those are some gaudy offensive statistics for a team that has folded against top-ranked defenses the past couple of seasons.

Ultimately, the Ducks offense finally figured out a way beat Stanford with the running game, and the Oregon defense stepped up when it needed to.

Let’s start with the running game because, quite frankly, the Ducks have underperformed on the ground against Stanford over the past two seasons. True freshman Royce Freeman, Oregon’s starting running back, once again proved that he’s a difference-maker for the Ducks.

Andy Staples of Sport Illustrated described Royce Freeman as a ‘Theatre of Pain.” Freeman isn’t afraid to terrorize opposing defenses with a physicality that Oregon’s running game has lacked in previous years. On the night, Freeman ran for 98 yards on 19 carries.

While Freeman has been Oregon’s most consistent runner this season, he wasn’t the star of the show tonight, despite his 98-yard performance. Thomas Tyner, who has struggled for a significant part of the season, finally broke out against the Cardinal. Tyner, who rushed for 63 yards on 10 carries and scored two touchdowns, not only was a stabilizing force for Oregon’s offense, but he also capped the victory with a beautiful 21-yard touchdown run that gave the Ducks a 31-16 lead and effectively put the game out of reach. 

And, of course, there’s the performance of quarterback Marcus Mariota. Last year against the Cardinal, Mariota had a sprained MCL, which limited his ability to escape the pocket and do what he does best: make something out of nothing.

Despite the fact that Mariota threw an interception for the second consecutive game, he made play after play and led the Ducks offense up and down the field versus one of the nations finest defensive units. Mariota threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns; however, it was his ability to escape the pocket and make plays with his legs that was special against Stanford. Mariota ran the ball nine times for 85 yards and also scored two touchdowns, while also escaping the pocket with regularity in order to make plays downfield with his arm. 

Coming into the game, the Stanford defense had allowed only four rushing touchdowns all season. The Ducks scored four rushing touchdowns all by themselves. Moreover, the Cardinal had allowed just 11 touchdowns through eight games. The Ducks scored six touchdowns on the night against Stanford, which accounts for 35.3-percent of the touchdowns Stanford has allowed this entire season.

All in all, the Ducks rushed for 267 yards on 46 carries. Compare that to Oregon’s rushing performances against Stanford in 2012 and 2013, and it becomes clear how impressive of a performance this was for the Ducks. In Oregon’s previous two losses to the Cardinal, the Ducks rushed for a combined total of 260—including a 62-yard performance in 2013. The Ducks exceeded that two-year total against Stanford on Saturday night.

To say this was a masterful performance by the Ducks offense may be an understatement. However, the Ducks don’t have much time to celebrate this win, nor do they get bonus points for beating Stanford. When asked if there was any special significance to beating Stanford, head coach Mark Helfrich said, “If there’s any added significance it’s mental. We don’t get extra credit for winning this game.”

He's right. The Ducks have to keep moving forward because Oregon's next opponent, the Utah Utes, may prove to be Oregon’s biggest roadblock to a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Not only is Utah—ranked No. 17 by the College Football Playoff committee—a much-improved team this season, they possess one of the best home-field advantages in the entire country. When asked about the Ducks win over Stanford, Helfrich quipped, “Our reward is a tough opponent in a great venue.”

Indeed, Utah’s home field, Rice-Eccles Stadium, sits 4,657 feet above sea level, and the Utes pose a serious threat to Oregon’s postseason aspirations. The Utes will challenge the Ducks with a very competent defense, great running game and one of the best special teams unit in the entire nation.

The Utes are led by outstanding junior running back Devontae Booker, whom a NFL scout has compared favorably to Houston Texans’ star Arian Foster. Through his first eight games this season, Booker has rushed for 844 yards and eight touchdowns on 146 carries.

Utah’s defense, which is ranked No. 29 in the country in scoring and No. 55 in total yards allowed, will present similar challenges to those posed by Stanford’s defense. While the Utes' D may not be as highly ranked as that as Stanford in terms of statistics, it is legitimate enough that the Ducks should be concerned.

Lastly, Utah’s special teams have been absolutely deadly so far this season. While the Ducks did a good job of containing Stanford’s Ty Montgomery—one of the best special teams players in the entire country—they’ll be hard pressed to totally stop Utah’s special teams units on Nov. 8.

The Utes are No. 2 in kickoff returns, No. 3 in punt returns, No. 3 in punting and may have the best kicker in the country in sophomore sensation Andy Phillips.

It’s going to be difficult for the Ducks to put this victory over Stanford behind them and immediately move on to preparing for Utah. However, if they Ducks want to earn a bid into a College Football Playoff semifinal, they’re going to need to win out. It all starts with Utah.

The Ducks have three more regular-season games—Utah, Colorado and Oregon State—and must impress the committee in each and every game. If they are able to win their next three games, they’ll be rewarded with a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. If they win the Pac-12 title and finish the season at 12-1, they’ll undoubtedly earn a spot into the College Football Playoff.

Oregon made a loud statement against Stanford, and the program should be taken as a very viable playoff candidate. However, the Ducks would be wise not to overlook any opponent at this point in the year.

For the Ducks it’s simple: You win and you’re in. That’s easier said than done.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise stated. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

 

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Oregon Gets Stanford Monkey off Its Back, Can Ducks Avoid Late-Season Letdown?

Three possessions. Three 75-yard touchdown drives. That’s all it took for the Oregon Ducks to rid themselves of the “Stanford Problem...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 10

Major matchups between top programs in Week 10 had a huge effect on much of the Heisman race. Many of the top contenders remain in the running, but other dark horses continue to emerge.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee gives his updated Heisman contenders after Week 10. 

Who will win the Heisman Trophy?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Mississippi State Shows Championship Heart in Survival Win over Arkansas

When you're the top-ranked team in the nation, every opponent on your schedule will try to find your Kryptonite.

On Saturday night, the Arkansas Razorbacks did all they could to uncover Mississippi State's weakness.

But in the end, Dak Prescott added to his Heisman reel, and the Bulldogs showed that they can take a punch the way Sylvester Stallone did in the Rocky saga. 

With the game tied at 10-10 early in the fourth quarter, following a missed Arkansas field goal, momentum was up for grabs.

The Bulldogs were 69 yards away from the end zone and looked like they were about to give the ball back to the Razorbacks, who were slowly but surely eating away at the Bulldogs' defensive front.

Prescott, who threw two picks on the night, rolled out to his left with pressure behind him. He saw his man, Fred Ross, wide open on the left sideline and, with defenders inches from pulling him town, hoisted the ball up.

It was a perfect strike, and Ross took it the rest of the way to give the Bulldogs a 17-10 lead.

On the very next drive for Arkansas, the Razorbacks went 72 yards in a massive 17-play drive.

But Mississippi State stuffed them at the goal line to give Prescott the ball back.

The Bulldogs punted away with 2:29 left in the game, and again Arkansas mounted a last-ditch effort to tie to the game.

This time, a 10-play, 66-yard drive for the Razorbacks ended with an interception by Will Redmond to effectively end the game.

Each time the Bulldogs were tested on Saturday night against Arkansas, the official Peskiest Team in the SEC, they rose to the occasion.

That's what good teams do. That's what true No. 1s do.

As Alex Scarborough of ESPN points out, Dan Mullen knows that.

Prescott had a career day throwing the ball with his mobility shut down by a ball-hawking Razorback defense, racking up 331 yards through the air.

But the unquestioned winner of the game ball is Josh Robinson. A running back who's spent most of this season in the shadows of Prescott, he had 64 yards rushing, 110 yards receiving on just six catches and a touchdown.

Heisman contenders will have off days, that's a fact. While Prescott had a career high in passing yards, there was still the matter of those two interceptions. His 61 yards on the ground were also his second lowest of the season—he ran for just 23 in Week 1 against Southern Miss, a 49-0 win.

When Heisman contenders have less-than-invincible outings, it's all about who the next man up is. For the Bulldogs, that was Robinson against Arkansas.

And on Saturday night, it was Robinson and the Bulldogs' grit that showed up with the game on the line, particularly with that goal-line stand, that will keep the Bulldogs atop the rankings for another week.

 

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College Football Playoff Projections After Crazy Weekend

After a wild Week 10, the College Football Playoff seems to be taking a better shape. With top teams competing against each other, shakeups are sure to follow this intense Saturday.

Bleacher college football analyst Adam Kramer tells you who he thinks is in and out of the CFP.

Who is in your top four for college football?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Nick Marshall's Clutch Factor Should Make Him a Heisman Finalist

Auburn won a high-profile game against a ranked opponent in dramatic fashion on Saturday, continuing the trend it started last season with a 35-31 road victory over Ole Miss.

The Tigers appeared to have lost the lead when Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell took a screen pass toward the end zone in the final minutes, but linebacker Kris Frost hustled to catch Treadwell from behind, tackled him on the goal line and jarred the bar loose in regrettably gruesome fashion.

Treadwell rolled over his ankle and had to be carted off the field, but the fumble—which was recovered in the end zone by Auburn—was confirmed by a video replay.

While the defense—for once—made the customary "miracle" play in Auburn's win, it wasn't the defense that won the Tigers this game. It was the offense. Namely, it was quarterback Nick Marshall.

Playing against a defense that entered first in the country in points allowed per game (10.5), Marshall gained more than 300 total yards, scored four touchdowns and navigated Auburn to three long touchdown drives on consecutive possessions in the second half.

And he deserves to be a Heisman Trophy finalist because of that.

Marshall completed 15 of 22 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and rushed 10 times for 50 yards and another two scores. He beat the Rebels with his ever-improving arm and legs, which are almost without parallel—sometimes using both in the same, unearthly jolt.

Take, for example, this 57-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates at the end of the second quarter, before which Marshall sidestepped a rushing defender in the backfield:

Auburn punted on its first possession of the second half but scored touchdowns on its next three after that. Combined with the touchdown above, that means it scored touchdowns on four of five possessions against the "Landsharks" on their own field.

Before Week 10, Ole Miss had allowed eight touchdowns all season.

The second-half touchdown drives Marshall orchestrated went 73 yards in seven plays, 96 yards in 11 plays and 75 yards in nine plays, respectively.

The first got Auburn within three points after an Ole Miss touchdown, the second gave Auburn a four-point lead after an Ole Miss punt and the third gave Auburn a four-point lead—for the eventual 35-31 margin—after another Ole Miss touchdown.

Every time Ole Miss threw a punch, Marshall responded with a counter.

It was one thing when he was countering against South Carolina—a team that now officially has a losing record—but it's another thing to counter against one of the best defenses in the country.

"If Marshall can get things cooking this week and keep it up against the stingy 'Landsharks' defense at Ole Miss, he'd be back in the Heisman mix with the porous Texas A&M defense coming to The Plains on Nov. 8," wrote Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee before Marshall dominated South Carolina last weekend.

"Hello, Heisman."

"If It's close, our guys believe they're going to win," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn told reporters after the victory. "And we've done it in some of the most bizarre ways."

That belief in the most trying moments is an extension of Marshall, which is what makes him one of the most valuable players in college football. Only Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston—one of three quarterbacks Marshall has ever lost to—does it better.

Presently, Marshall's case for the Heisman falls behind those of Dak Prescott (another one of the quarterbacks who has beaten Marshall) and Marcus Mariota (whose stats far exceed those of Marshall) but lands on the tier right behind them alongside players such as Winston and Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson.

If Auburn continues winning, and if Marshall continues catalyzing those wins, there's a chance he could sneak into the front-runner conversation. He would need to get some help, but it's possible. 

Either way, though, he will deserve to make the trip to New York.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter @BLeighDAT.

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Was Breaking Oregon's 'Stanford Curse' Marcus Mariota's Heisman Moment?

Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks rolled over the Stanford Cardinal 45-16 in Week 10 action.

The junior threw for 258 yards while accounting for four total touchdowns. More importantly, it was his first career win over Stanford.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down Mariota's big game and his chances at the Heisman Trophy.

Did this victory make Mariota the Heisman front-runner? Check out the video and let us know!

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

After an uneven showing on the road against Penn State last week, No. 16 Ohio State (7-1) got back on track in a big way with a 55-14 rout of Illinois (4-5) Saturday night.

The Buckeyes dominated in all three phases of the game, outgaining the Illini by 302 total yards. In fact, Ohio State had a shutout going for much of the game, but Tim Beckman's squad put together two touchdown drives against the Buckeyes' second-team defense. 

How did Ohio State grade out from its convincing 41-point victory?

 

Ohio State Buckeyes Grade Analysis

Pass Offense 

J.T. Barrett saw just two quarters of action, but he made the most of his limited time by completing 15 of 24 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Cardale Jones closed things out in the second half as the Buckeyes totaled 249 passing yards and four touchdowns against no interceptions.

Devin Smith paced the receivers, hauling in three catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. The Buckeyes spread it around, though, as nine different pass-catchers hauled in receptions.

 

Run Offense 

The Buckeyes churned out yards on the ground at a high rate against the Illini. Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel led the way, combining for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, but Jalin Marshall was a surprising star. The H-back saw time as a wildcat quarterback and ran for 42 yards and a touchdown on five carries.

Those three highlighted a Buckeyes rushing attack that totaled 296 yards and 6.7 yards per carry.

 

Pass Defense

Ohio State’s pass defense continues to improve under co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, and against Illinois, the unit was dominant. The Buckeyes surrendered just 58 passing yards in the first half—56 of which came on one pass.

Starting quarterback Reilly O’Toole was benched midway through the second quarter, but backup Aaron Bailey didn’t have much success either. The Illini finished with just 137 passing yards and one touchdown. Ohio State's defense came up with two interceptions, both of which came in the first half against O'Toole.

 

Run Defense

The Buckeyes were just as dominant against the run, allowing a meager 106 rushing yards to the Illini. Bailey provided a spark when he came in for O’Toole, running for a team-high 39 yards from the quarterback position. But the Illini had a hard time getting anything going on the ground, as the team averaged just 2.5 yards per carry against Joey Bosa and a surging linebacker unit.

 

Special Teams

Freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger wasn’t called on very often, but he did drill two field goals of 44 and 26 yards and was a perfect 7-of-7 on extra-point attempts. The Buckeyes had a quiet night in the return game, but Dontre Wilson flashed in the fourth quarter, taking a kickoff 43 yards to midfield.

 

Coaching 

Urban Meyer and Tom Herman did an excellent job managing Barrett, who will be desperately needed next week when the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing for a prime-time matchup against Michigan State. Barrett showed that he's still dangerous, but the coaching staff did a great job keeping him on his feet without further injuring his sprained knee. 

The defensive staff called an outstanding game as well, limiting the Illinois offense to just 243 total yards and a season-low 14 points.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.  

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

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Arkansas vs. Mississippi State: Game Grades, Analysis for Razorbacks & Bulldogs

Mississippi State remains undefeated, as they got past Arkansas 17-10. The final box score can be found here, thanks to NCAA.com.

The Bulldogs did not play their best game, but they found a way to win, which is why they are the No. 1 team in the country. As for Arkansas, it was another tough loss for the Hogs, as they could not make that one play to get them over the hump.

It was a well-played game by both teams, but they will have a few things they need to work on as the season winds down.

Here are game grades and analysis for the Razorbacks and the Bulldogs.

 

Passing Offense

The Hogs aren’t really known for throwing the ball downfield, but Brandon Allen made some big throws, especially in the fourth quarter. The problem was that Allen was not accurate and was constantly flushed out of the pocket. When a team like Arkansas has to throw over 40 times, that means the run game is not where it needs to be.

 

Running Offense

And that was exactly the case, as the Razorbacks only rushed for 163 yards on 38 carries. Alex Collins was the only running back that could do anything for the Hogs, rushing for 93 yards and one score.

Jonathan Williams did not have any big runs, and the same goes for Kody Walker. The Bulldogs defense did a great job maintaining their gaps and tackling at the point of attack. If the Hogs don’t run the ball for more than 200 yards, that’s a big problem.

 

Passing Defense

The Razorbacks defense knew that Dak Prescott could make plays with his arm and legs, but they did not expect him to go completely off in the passing game. Prescott threw for more than 330 yards because the secondary for Arkansas had miscommunication, which led to blown coverages. But then again, the front-seven for Arkansas didn't apply any pressure on Prescott, either.

 

Running Defense

One of the things the Hogs did well is not let the Bulldogs run wild. Prescott had a bum ankle, so he was not going to have a big night running the ball. But led by linebacker Martrell Spaight, Robinson only had 64 yards and one touchdown.  That was one of the biggest reasons the Razorbacks were in the game until the end.  The front seven never let Prescott and Robinson run over them.

 

Special Teams

The special teams could have been better for the Hogs. Adam McFain missed a key field goal in the second half, the punting game did not make a big impact and the return game did not make any big plays. This was a game when special teams needed to be a key factor. But while the group did not make any mistakes, they needed to make plays to help the offense.

 

Coaching

Brett Bielema has done a great job preparing his team each week. But they seem to be missing that one play, and that’s why they have not won an SEC game in their last 16 tries. The coaching staff had a great game plan, and they made all the right decisions. It’s up to the players to go out there and execute.

 

Passing Offense

Prescott had his best game through the air as Bulldog. He threw for a career-high 331 yards and one score. However, he did throw two interceptions in the second half, which is another reason why the Razorbacks were able to hang with the No. 1 team in the country. Prescott was fighting an ankle injury all game long, but he looked really comfortable in the second half and was able to lead the Bulldogs to a win.

 

Running Offense

It was not the best of nights for the run game for the Bulldogs, as they had only 128 yards on 35 carries. Prescott had 61 yards while Robinson had 64. Both players were able to get off a couple of big runs, but the Razorbacks defense kept them bottled up most of the game.

 

Passing Defense

The Bulldogs had to force Allen to throw 43 times in the game, but the secondary did give up some big throws towards the end of the game. However, the Bulldogs did intercept Allen on the last play of the game to seal the victory. Mississippi State normally gives  up a lot of yards in the air, but the group played well Saturday, as they kept everything in front of them and there was no breakdown in coverage.

 

Running Defense

The Hogs can run the ball, but they did not do a great job of it on Saturday night because Benardrick McKinney and company kept Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams bottled up. Collins did have 93 yards, but 42 of those yards came on one play. The Hogs rushed for more than 260 yards per game, but they did not come close to that because the front seven won the battle of the line of scrimmage.

 

Special Teams

Devon Bell was solid in the punt game, Evan Sobiesk made his lone field goal, and the return specialist did not have any big returns but did not put the Bulldogs in bad field position. So the special teams had a strong effort against the Razorbacks. But like Arkansas, the Bulldogs would have loved to have a big return or two, because that would help them get more points and not have to worry about a fourth-quarter rally.

 

Coaching

Despite the rally, Dan Mullen had a good game plan for the Bulldogs. One of the best things Mullen did was let Prescott continue to throw in the second half, even though he threw two picks in the first half. Mullen let Prescott do his thing, and it worked out in the end. But the coaching staff will need to learn from the mistakes they made in this game and come up with a better game plan, because Alabama and Ole Miss are right around the corner.

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Winners and Losers from Week 10 of College Football

November is here and the conference games across college football are growing ever more important. There have already been wild finishes and upsets that promise to shake up the College Football Playoff picture. 

From TCU's game-winning field goal on the road against West Virginia to Florida's stunning beatdown over Georgia, November has already come through in providing some great games. Oregon finally took care of Stanford, and Auburn survived a shootout with Ole Miss. 

From those games and much, much more, we have it all covered. As you'll notice, Winners and Losers is live while other games are ongoing. Not to worry, as this post will be updated throughout the night as events warrant. 

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

Begin Slideshow

Stanford vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for Ducks

On the arm and legs of Marcus Mariota, the Oregon Ducks were able to handily defeat Pac-12 North Division rival Stanford on Saturday by a score of 45-16. 

Mariota totaled nearly 350 yards of total offense. The elite signal-caller also contributed two touchdowns on the ground in addition to throwing for two more scores.

The vaunted Stanford defense simply had no answers for the quick-attack Oregon offense. Only allowing 12.5 points per game heading into the contest, David Shaw's unit relinquished its highest point total of the season. The Ducks also rolled up an impressive (and perhaps surprising) 526 yards of total offense. 

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

 

 

Oregon Ducks Analysis

Passing Offense

Oregon didn't look to test Stanford often on deep throws, but Mariota was superb on intermediate strikes. The signal-caller finished an efficient 19-of-30 for 258 yards and two touchdowns. 

His productive running of the football forced Stanford to commit more defenders up in the box. As a result, Mariota was able to exploit one-on-one matchups down the field with his receivers.

 

Pass Defense

There were some breakdowns in the back end. Stanford had the majority of its success on throws over the middle of the field. Devon Cajuste and Austin Hooper in particular were unaccounted for on multiple occasions.

The lack of a consistent pass rush also enabled Hogan to scan the field and throw with much accuracy. Hogan finished 21-of-29 for 237 yards. The highlight of the night for the Oregon secondary was an Erick Dargan interception late in the third quarter on a poorly thrown ball by Hogan. Dargan also forced a fumble on Hogan later in the game.

 

 

Rushing Offense

Oregon was simply sensational Saturday night running the football. The offensive line protected Mariota exceptionally well by not only giving him time to sit in the pocket and make throws, but also by opening up running lanes for the elite quarterback to exploit with his legs. 

The unit as a whole rushed for more than 250 yards. Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner combined for over 150 yards on the ground. Tyner had the play of the game with his spin-move in the open field, leading to one of his two touchdowns. 

 

Run Defense

The run defense did a very nice job, holding a run-heavy team to a paltry 3.4 yards-per-carry average. Most of Stanford's success running the football came on scrambles and designed runs by Hogan. He led Stanford on the night with 42 yards rushing on 11 carries. 

Both Danny Mattingly and Joe Walker were impressive against the run. Each had tackles for loss, darting into the backfield and wrapping up the ball-carrier. 

 

Special Teams

The unit was solid across the board. Freshman kicker Aidan Schneider connected on his only attempt of the night. Perhaps the biggest development was the job the kickoff and punt cover team did on Ty Montgomery. Although Stanford's lethal returner did have decent gains on kickoffs, Oregon corralled him and never allowed a return for a touchdown.  

 

Coaching 

Offensively, Mark Helfrich opted to place more of an emphasis on Mariota running the football. Stanford had no answer for this development. As the game wore on, the success on the ground opened up things in the passing game. This epitomizes what Oregon's offense is, dating back to the Chip Kelly era. When functioning at this level, it's incredibly difficult to stop. 

Don Pellum's defense neutralized Stanford's ground game and forced Hogan to make plays with his arm. While accurate and efficient, he never seriously threatened Oregon with any big plays. 

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