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Notre Dame Football: Irish Can't Win with Turnovers

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A seemingly inexplicable game gave way to one simple truism as Northwestern shocked Notre Dame, 43-40, on Saturday.

The Wildcats and the Irish combined for 1,045 yards of total offense, including 474 total rushing yards. As perplexing as it was to see a 3-6 Northwestern squad, fresh off a 10-9 stinker against Michigan, giving the Irish all they could handle, it made perfect sense, in a way. It’s actually quite simple.

Notre Dame cannot continue to turn the football over at such a prolific clip and expect to win games.

“You can't start winning until you stop losing,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said after the loss, resuscitating his popular refrain from his first two seasons in South Bend, when the Irish committed a combined 53 turnovers.

And, recently, the Irish are losing. Notre Dame has lost three of its last four games—the first such stretch since the Irish lost three of the first four games of the Brian Kelly era way back in 2010. For the most part, Notre Dame has lost with self-inflicted wounds.

“All the credit in the world to Northwestern, them going out and playing a great football game, but we should have won,” said Irish senior running back Cam McDaniel, who coughed up a fumble with Notre Dame ahead 40-37 with 1:28 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Irish looking to salt away the win at a cold, icy Notre Dame Stadium.

McDaniel’s miscue was one of four Notre Dame turnovers. Three Irish possessions earlier, with Notre Dame up five points at the time, junior receiver Chris Brown fumbled at the Northwestern 1-yard line.

“We’re not making small errors,” Kelly said. “We’re making critical errors.”

The major mishaps, of course, aren’t isolated incidents. And they’re not without precedent. In Kelly’s first season, Notre Dame committed four turnovers against both Tulsa and USC. In 2011, the Irish gave it up five times against both South Florida and Michigan.

But after that five-turnover showing in the second game of the 2011 season, Notre Dame went 40 games without committing more than three turnovers in a single game. The Irish only had one turnover total in the first three games of this season. That has all changed drastically.

Notre Dame has at least one turnover in eight consecutive games—the longest consecutive stretch in the Kelly era—including addictive performances such as Syracuse (five turnovers), Arizona State (five) and Northwestern.

“We just don't play clean enough as a football team, and those are the things that prevent us from winning.” Kelly said.

Now, Notre Dame’s string of struggles isn’t exactly comparable to the three losses in 2010, when No. 16 Stanford was the only Top 25 team to which to Irish lost. To be fair, No. 3 Florida State and No. 6 Arizona State present stout challenges. But, still, the turnovers are proving costly.

“The way we lost football games then [in 2010] was pretty similar, wasn’t it?” said graduate student safety Austin Collinsworth, who was mostly a special teamer in his rookie season. “It was turnovers and mental mistakes and stuff that you really can’t do if you want to win at this level.”

For now, Notre Dame isn’t winning. It’s clear why, but the deeper cause isn’t as obvious.

“They’re really just showing up on Saturdays,” McDaniel said of the turnover issues, the critical errors. “… You can’t win football games if you turn the ball over.”

Irish sophomore running back Tarean Folston said Notre Dame has done the same ball-protection drills every day this season.

Whatever the answer is, Notre Dame hasn’t found it yet.

 

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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Todd Gurley vs. Auburn: Stats, Highlights and Twitter Reaction to RB's Return

For almost 55 of the 60 minutes, Todd Gurley's awaited return went as seamless as any Georgia fan could have hoped. Then, it turned sour in a heartbeat.

Gurley had 29 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown in Georgia's 34-7 win over  Auburn Saturday night, but suffered a non-contact knee injury with five minutes to go and left with a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the severity of the injury.

He was able to walk off the field, but the nature of the injury had plenty on the scene worried, as 247 Sports' Gentry Estes reported:

Freshman Nick Chubb, Gurley's backfield partner, outshone Gurley for the most part with 19 carries for 144 yards and two scores. With both of their workhorses firing on all cylinders, Georgia rushed for 289 yards and that was more than enough to get the win.

The anticipation was huge entering Gurley's return after missing the last four games for accepting illegal benefits stemming from autographed memorabilia. Georgia's football Twitter account captured a nice sight for Bulldog fans as their star walked out of the tunnel:

The junior running back, who also impacts games in special teams, Gurley took the opening kickoff of the game back for a would-be touchdown. His return looked to start in perfect fashion, but it was called back for holding. 

Either way, ESPN SportsCenter called what everybody saw—Gurley is still on top of his game:

But he didn't immediately make that same impact in the backfield for the Bulldogs. Actually, Chubb got the call on the first series and Gurley's first two carries on the second series weren't pretty, as ESPN's Edward Aschoff noted:

After a sluggish start that saw Auburn lead 7-0, Georgia's special teams recovered a punt and Gurley pounded it into the Tigers' red zone with a signature 11-yard run—you know, those ones where there isn't much of an opening, but he still slices through and falls forward for an extra three yards.

Chubb had the better first half with 67 rushing yards, but a lot of that had to do with Gurley seeming to sport an injured elbow as David Pollack of ESPN and many others noticed:

Coming out for the second half, Gurley continued to split carries with Chubb and kept wearing down a weary Auburn defense. Their dual rushing ability was never on better display than on a seven-play drive (all runs) started by Chubb and capped off by two Gurley runs to extend Georgia's lead to 24-7.

Georgia's defense started to close things out, but Gurley entered the fourth quarter with no carries past 13 yards. That eventually changed, as he scampered free for a 31-yard gain on a late fourth-quarter drive. 

Gurley surpassed the 100-yard mark with that carry, as Georgia athletics noted:

The former Heisman Trophy contender's impact on Georgia's win was huge, but it could end up being costly.

Gurley's 29th and final carry put a hush over the Sanford Stadium crowd, and any resulting celebration from the win was tempered due to the lack of knowledge about Gurley's injury status.

As The Macon Telegraph's Seth Emerson noted, Gurley headed straight to the hospital:

Bleacher Report's David Siebert worried of a serious ligament problem, although official word will soon come out:

The late injury undeniably puts a damper on Georgia's big day, but it doesn't change the fact that the Bulldogs are now back in position to possibly win the SEC East. With their conference slate done, they need a Missouri loss to get to Atlanta.

Georgia has Chubb to take over the backfield again if Gurley's injury is indeed serious, but it undeniably takes the Bulldog offense from borderline unstoppable to a one-trick pony. The Bulldogs need both Gurley and Chubb to be firing, if they're going to contend in a potential SEC title game.

None of that seems to matter at all, however, in comparison to what a serious injury might mean for Gurley's career. He's the best rusher to hit college football in some time, and his running style has already generated a wealth of NFL talk. 

It's safe to say Georgia fans, along with the millions who just enjoy watching Gurley run people over, will be hoping for a quick return to health for the star back.

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Auburn vs. Georgia: Score and Twitter Reaction

Todd Gurley grabbed the headlines heading into Saturday's game between No. 9 Auburn and No. 15 Georgia, but his understudy, Nick Chubb, stole the show as the Bulldogs toppled the Tigers 34-7 in Athens.

Much was made of this being Gurley's first game back from suspension and rightfully so. He's one of the best running backs in the country and was a major Heisman Trophy candidate before his four-game absence.

However, Chubb emerged as a bona fide star during that stretch, rushing for 671 yards and five touchdowns in the four weeks without Gurley. The freshman running back served as the silver lining behind Gurley's suspension.

Putting the two together is almost unfair. NFL.com's Bryan Fischer made the parallel to the thunder-and-lightning combo of LenDale White and Reggie Bush from their days at USC:

"Nobody's stopped him and some of them slowed him down a little bit," said Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson of Gurley before the game, per The Associated Press (h/t FoxSports.com). "The only guy that stopped him was the autograph guy."

You can add Auburn to the list of teams that have failed to stop the senior. He rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. He also jumped up to second in the Bulldogs' record books for career rushing, per Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph:

Georgia fans had a bit of a scare in the fourth quarter, when Gurley exited with what looked like a left leg injury, per Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald:

Gurley's injury was a bit of a downer, but it couldn't take the shine off Chubb's performance. He led all rushers with 19 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns. He was also Georgia's leading receiver, catching two passes for 48 yards.

ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler believes Chubb has overshadowed LSU's more hyped Leonard Fournette so far this year:

As good as Gurley and Chubb played, the Georgia defense deserves plenty of credit as well. It held Nick Marshall to 112 yards passing, while limiting the Tigers' ground game to 150 yards, down from an average of 286.4 yards entering the game.

Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne rushed for fewer than 100 yards for only the third time all season, amassing 86 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. The Bulldogs dominated this game on both sides of the ball.

But Georgia's finish to the game was in stark contrast to the way it began the proceedings.

Artis-Payne gave Auburn a 7-0 lead on the first drive of the game after a 26-yard touchdown run. The Tigers offense is predicated on the running game, so head coach Gus Malzahn will have enjoyed his team's start to the ballgame.

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee felt that as great as it was for Georgia to have Gurley back, he wouldn't be able to help the Bulldogs defense try to stop Auburn:

But Gurley is electric almost every time he touches the ball, as evidenced by his 100-yard return on the ensuing kickoff. However, referees called the play back for a flag, wiping out the score, as noted by the Georgia Bulldogs:

The Bulldogs shot themselves in the foot again on the very same drive, as an ineligible-receiver-downfield penalty wiped out a brilliant fake punt that got Georgia down near the goal line. Head coach Mark Richt gambled on the 4th-and-8, and it would've paid off in spades without the flag.

ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach felt that the officials made an egregious error on the play:

Auburn failed to build upon its 7-0 lead, so Georgia would be right back in the game with one big play. And after suffering their fair share of bad luck, the Bulldogs were bound to have something fall their way.

That's exactly what happened with a little over three minutes left in the first quarter. Auburn return man Quan Bray fumbled a punt deep in his own territory, and Georgia recovered on the Auburn 19-yard line. Gurley got the ball down to the 7-yard line, from which Hutson Mason found Malcolm Mitchell for the touchdown.

Chubb handed Georgia a 14-7 lead in the second quarter through a nine-yard run, and Marshall Morgan made it a 10-point game heading into halftime with a 32-yard field goal. The seven points were the fewest Auburn's scored in a first half all season, per the SEC Network:

The Tigers had similar success corralling Chubb and Gurley in the second half—which is to say they had none. The two running backs helped Georgia control the clock and continue moving the ball forward.

One of the issues with Auburn's run-focused offense is that it's not exactly built to close a massive deficit in a short amount of time. That became a major problem for the Tigers in the third quarter, as the Bulldogs' lead swelled to 20 points.

A three-yard touchdown run from Gurley made it 24-7 with 7:28 left in the third quarter.

On its next drive, Georgia was inches away from another touchdown after an impressive run after the catch by Chubb. He nearly ran right through Auburn defensive back Jonathon Mincy before winding his way into the end zone. Alas, Chubb stepped out at the 11-yard line, robbing the Bulldogs of the score and himself of a highlight-reel TD reception.

CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli joked that allowing the touchdown might have been a preferable outcome for the Tigers, if only because it meant less time having to tackle Chubb:

The Bulldogs settled for a field goal to make the score 27-7.

The Georgia running game continued to dominate the Tigers going into the fourth quarter. The longer the Bulldogs offense remained on the field, the more tired Auburn's defense became, which meant Auburn couldn't get the ball back quickly.

Chubb added an 11-yard rushing TD late in the game to eliminate any chance of a comeback.

Georgia's win doesn't impact the playoff picture all that much, save for perhaps dinging Mississippi State, whose 38-23 win over a then-No. 2 Auburn doesn't look that good anymore.

The Bulldogs still need some help in the SEC East in order to make the SEC Championship Game. Missouri remains 4-1 in the conference. That 38-20 loss to Florida back on Nov. 1 could come back to haunt Georgia in a big way.

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FSU's Karlos Williams Grabs Deflected Pass, Runs It into End Zone

This is a perfect example of when being lucky is better than being good. 

Down 13 points to unranked Miami, Florida State needed some serious help as it faced 3rd-and-goal in the third quarter. The Seminoles got just that in a perfectly defended pass that took an extremely lucky bounce. 

The Karlos Williams touchdown was the first receiving TD of his career and put the Seminoles within five points. 

[gifdsports]

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Notre Dame's Implosion vs. Northwestern Is Worst Loss of Brian Kelly Era

With the sun gone and the sky dark over Notre Dame Stadium, the university's No. 1 landmark—the Golden Dome—was nowhere to be seen on the national broadcast.

And while shortly after 6:00 p.m. the main building awoke, perhaps the guy in charge of the electric bill had an idea of how Saturday was going to go for the Irish. 

In falling to Northwestern and dropping to 7-3, Brian Kelly had his worst day on the sidelines as Notre Dame's head coach.

More unexplainable than the loss to Tulsa in 2010. More self-inflicted than the debacle against USF in 2011. And more egg on Kelly's face than any defeat at the hands of Brady Hoke, Nick Saban or Todd Graham. 

Notre Dame's 43-40 overtime defeat will take a long time to digest, especially when you consider the unlikely ways the Irish looked victory in the face, only to turn away and give it back to Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats.

That explains why, when he met the media, a normally polished head coach struggled to understand how his team managed to lose a game in which it had a double-digit lead with just five minutes remaining. 

"So many things happened in that game that it's hard to put them all in perspective as I'm standing here right now," Kelly said. 

Kelly mentioned some of the key issues. Turnovers (again). A defense that allowed the least explosive offense in power-five football to gain 547 yards. Special teams that missed two field goals and allowed an extra point to be returned for two points—basically a nine-point swing.  

Don't forget coaching. With an 11-point lead and an extra-point attempt pushing the game to a three-score lead, Kelly turned against the advice of his strategy sheet and went for two because he didn't trust his kicking battery.

Between that and some puzzling play-calling near the goal line and down the stretch, all eyes will be on the man in charge of the Irish program. 

And rightfully so.

In Kelly's fifth year at Notre Dame, his program seemed to be well past a loss like this.

But in less than a month, the Irish went from a team that was one offensive pass interference call in Tallahassee away from a Top Four ranking to losing three of its last four, likely falling from the Top 25 and looking at two very difficult games to finish the regular season.

Now, Notre Dame's head coach needs to find a way to stop the bleeding and keep his young football team from imploding.

"It's the critical errors through the game. I mean, we just don't play clean enough, you know, as a football team, and those are the things that prevent us from winning," Kelly explained, his words matching up with the horror show we all witnessed. "You can't start winning until you stop losing." 

Those are comments Kelly has been saying since the beginning of his tenure at Notre Dame. And they are the reason he's in South Bend to begin with, after watching Charlie Weis routinely have his team play at a lower level than its talent suggested

But while it looked like Kelly and his coaching staff might be able to escape the growing pains that come with youthful football teams, the second half of this season has exposed the fatal flaws of the Irish roster. 

While most of the arrows have been aimed at Everett Golson's recent struggles, on Saturday he was just a complementary part of the disaster.

Sure, there were two more turnovers—an interception that ricocheted off his lineman's helmet and into the arms of another defender and a blown zone read near the goal line with Tarean Folston. But veterans Kyle Brindza, Chris Brown and Cam McDaniel all blew key opportunities down the stretch to seal an ugly but important eighth victory. 

And the young defense certainly didn't help. Even though it a perfect opportunity to stop its current free fall, Brian VanGorder's unit gave up yards and points without much resistance—barring a few forced turnovers.

The defense allowed the Wildcats to score more than 20 points against a ranked team for the first time since Northwestern's tailspin began against Ohio State last October.

"We're obviously playing a lot of young guys that are struggling and they're doing their best but, you know, [we've got] too many young guys on the field," Kelly said.

That's with fifth-year senior Austin Collinsworth playing with his shoulder in a harness and fellow fifth-year player Cody Riggs trying to play through a stress reaction in his foot.

And the defense looks to be getting even younger without junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day moving forward. Day was on the sidelines for most of the second half with a brace on his entire leg after suffering what looked like a knee injury.

An offense that couldn't put the game away late. A defense that gave Northwestern a season high in yardage with over a quarter to go. And a special teams unit that finally gave a game away after threatening to do so for the better part of two seasons. 

Add it all up and it's a Saturday that Brian Kelly will likely not forget. And it's also an implosion that could sink Notre Dame's season. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Todd Gurley Injury: Updates on Georgia RB's Knee and Return

Star Georgia running back Todd Gurley suffered an apparent non-contact knee injury late in his return Saturday against Auburn.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution's Chip Towers broke the news:

Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph supplied a brief update after the game:

247Sports' Gentry Estes had Mark Richt's thoughts after the game:

The injury occurred on a six-yard run as Georgia entered the red zone, looking to add to a 24-7 lead. Gurley cut to the left, advanced through a small hole and seemed to grab at his leg as he tumbled to the turf. He was able to limp off the field during the commercial break.

SEC Network's Greg McElroy sent his thoughts to the touted back:

Saturday marked Gurley's awaited return from a four-game suspension, and he came back in style with 29 carries for 138 yards and a score before the injury. But if the injury is serious, Georgia may have to accept life without the dominant rusher once again.

Freshman Nick Chubb has been magnificent filling in for Gurley, and he will continue to have a large role if Gurley cannot return this season.

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Tennessee Football: Offensive Weapons Make Vols Locks to Become Bowl-Eligible

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With 11 minutes remaining in Tennessee's win over Kentucky, quarterback Joshua Dobbs stood on the sideline, flanked by receiver Von Pearson and running back Jalen Hurd, watching the remnants of a rout.

Everybody else in a frigid Neyland Stadium watched that trio dominate the first three quarters of a 50-16 waltz over the Wildcats. 

This is the way it's supposed to go against Kentucky.

With the Cats dispatched and a fifth win secured, the Vols getting one more victory to become bowl-eligible seems a virtual lock. Though Missouri will pose a threat next week, there's no way Vanderbilt can defend what took place Saturday evening.

Pearson obviously thinks the Vols will be tough for anybody to defend. He told GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

The swagger was obviously oozing in the Tennessee locker room, but why shouldn't it? The Vols are rolling right now, and with the postseason now squarely in their sights, they want more. 

A bowl game would be a major step forward for a rebuilding program, but that doesn't seem good enough at this point. With this arsenal of playmakers and Dobbs to make everything tick, winning out looks like a distinct possibility.

Dobbs knows the magnitude of getting to that sixth win, as noted in his comments, per Tennessee Football.

Next week's night game in Neyland Stadium against Missouri could be a dormant UT program's coming-out party. With Dobbs at the helm, the Vols are a tough out for anybody. 

He has even made an offensive line that struggled mightily prior to his arrival look good. Since Dobbs entered for the third series against Alabama, he has accounted for 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. UT's offensive line that had allowed 23 sacks until that point has given up just three in three games.

"The defensive ends are more aware of Dobbs' ability to run, and it scares them a little bit," UT offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson told The Vol Network on the postgame radio show. "They have to be careful when they rush. Dobbs can make us right where we're wrong, which is a really big thing."

All the playmakers surrounding Dobbs certainly help.

Making his second start and continuing his surge into the national spotlight, Dobbs accounted for 345 total yards and four touchdowns, spraying the ball all over the field to nine different targets. Hurd mopped up with 118 yards on the ground, and a outmanned, gassed Kentucky defense offered little resistance.

Perhaps the best news for the Vols is Pearson's health. During the season-opening rout of Utah State, the junior-college transfer looked like a potential all-conference talent. Then, he suffered a high ankle sprain against Arkansas State and hasn't been the same since.

He was electrifying against UK.

Pearson took a fly sweep from Dobbs on UT's first drive, corkscrewed a Kentucky defender and scampered 21 yards for a touchdown. Dobbs hit him on a short pass a few minutes later, and he did the same thing, making a defender look silly to account for the Vols' third score. 

That kind of open-field talent has been lacking from a UT offense that sputtered until Dobbs took over. Now that the Vols have a dual-threat quarterback who can extend plays and make people miss with his legs, everything is opening up.

Adding a player who can juke defenders and jack-rabbit past everybody such as Pearson gives the Vols a dimension they simply haven't had since Cordarrelle Patterson was in orange and white.

"I've been able to move better left and right, so I'm coming along great," Pearson told The Vol Network. "Every play I go hard, so I'm always 100 percent."

After Kentucky had gained a measure of momentum with a last-second field goal to end the first half, Dobbs hit redshirt sophomore Jason Croom—North's replacement—on a bubble screen.

He split three defenders and raced 52 yards for a score to leave no doubts about the game's outcome.

When the Vols needed short yardage, they gained it, converting two 4th-and-short plays on an eventual touchdown drive. Then, they mixed in some big plays that ignited the crowd and proved they can now beat teams in a variety of ways on offense.

Not only is this good news for now, but also none of the players mentioned are seniors.

Dobbs looks unflappable, especially when he gets to freelance during plays. He told The Vol Network's radio show after the game that's the way he has always been.

"I'm just a chill guy—don't get too high or too low," he said. "When you make a big play, there are still more plays to be made."

The Vols made plenty against Kentucky. Coupled with the 45-point performance against South Carolina, UT now has scored 95 points in the past two games, its highest point total against consecutive SEC opponents since 2003, according to UTSports.com.

The Vols didn't even need the services of its best receiver. Marquez North played just one series before heading to the sideline to rest his banged-up shoulder Saturday night. His teammates picked up the slack.

It feels like old times on Rocky Top. But the Tigers will pose a major threat to Tennessee next week, especially with two of the best defensive ends in the SEC who bolsters the fourth-best scoring defense in the league entering their game against Texas A&M, according to cfbstats.com.

Preparation for Mizzou can wait a day. Saturday was about celebration and getting a step closer to a huge goal for the program. Speaking of celebrations, Vol Photos shared one of those moments Saturday: 

Now, UT has to hear a victorious rendition of "Rocky Top" at least one more time to make a bowl, something that seems almost a foregone conclusion right now.

Getting past the Tigers will be tough, but beating them would really be a step further than many expected. After Mizzou, the Vols' ace up their sleeve is a regular season-ending game at Vanderbilt against a team that hasn't proven equipped to handle dual-threat quarterbacks or dynamic offenses.

UT now has both, something nobody would have expected a month ago.

 

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

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

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Jaxon Shipley Injury: Updates on Texas WR's Leg and Return

The University of Texas Longhorns are hitting on all cylinders as they hold a 22-0 third-quarter lead on the Oklahoma State University Cowboys on Saturday.

The only bad news for head coach Charlie Strong is the injury to wideout Jaxon Shipley. According to ESPN Texas, the senior will be out for the rest of the game after hurting his leg.

Shipley entered the night as Texas' second-leading receiver with 538 yards and a touchdown on 54 receptions.

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College Football Playoff 2014: How Week 12's Results Will Impact Top-4 Ranking

If the No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide are awarded the top spot in the next College Football Playoff rankings, no one should bat an eye. The Tide knocked off the No. 1 and previously-unbeaten Mississippi State Bulldogs on Saturday 25-20. 

Bama picked off Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott three times, and quarterback Blake Sims threw for 211 yards and a score. Alabama proved it could knock off a team with a stout defense and one of the best individual offensive players in the nation.

It was as impressive a win as any team has had this season. If you consider that Bama has defeated three ranked teams since losing 23-17 to Ole Miss on Oct. 4, its resume is now better than every other one-loss team's in the nation.

Bama still must beat West Carolina and then face the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl. Assuming Bama wins both of those games, it will also face the SEC East champion in the conference championship.

The defending champion Florida State Seminoles are undefeated. However, in all honesty, they haven't looked like the best team in the nation. The Noles have struggled in several games against opponents that most would suspect a team their caliber to handle easily.

It's hard to penalize a team that hasn't lost, but if the committee is voting for the squad that has played the best football, it's Alabama. If the Noles were to lose on Saturday night to the Miami Hurricanes, it would drastically change the CFP scene.

The No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs are one team hoping that the Noles fall. The Horned Frogs squeaked by the Kansas Jayhawks 34-30 on Saturday, but the close call could cost them a spot in the top four for now. Mississippi State didn't look horrendous in losing its first game to Alabama.

As the newest team to join the one-loss club in college football, the Bulldogs have to be considered right behind Bama in that group. With Bama certainly moving into a top-four spot, one team has to drop, and it should be TCU.

Yes, the Horned Frogs were on the road, but they narrowly escaped a loss to a 3-6 team. TCU's defense gave up 418 total yards and 30 points to a team that came in averaging just 19.4 points per game.

The unimpressive win puts TCU at great risk of being bumped. Without a Big 12 title game to improve their standing, the Horned Frogs will need help to get back into the CFP picture if they wind up being the odd team out.

Things might look bleak for TCU right now. However, in such a wacky college football season there's still time for an upset to breathe new life into TCU's CFP hopes.

 

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Utah vs. Stanford: Score and Twitter Reaction

The Utah Utes outlasted the Stanford Cardinal in a double-overtime thriller, winning  20-17 in a Pac-12 battle of attrition Saturday evening. Each team's defense was stifling and both offenses were forced into chess-match mindsets, carefully plotting each move in a fight for field position.

Although, the game certainly didn't start out that way.

Stanford began the game on offense at its own 30-yard line. Quarterback Kevin Hogan fired a 14-yard completion to Michael Rector right out of the gate, nothing a quick first down. However, the Utes clamped down and three plays later, the Cardinal faced a 4th-and-1.

Needing only inches, Stanford decided to gamble. The Cardinal showed some brilliant play-calling, faking the fullback plunge and pitching outside to the speedy Christian McCaffrey, who streaked down the field for a 37-yard gain.

The Pac-12 Networks Twitter account shared its thoughts on the talented running back soon after:

Suddenly, Stanford found itself with a 1st-and-goal at the 10-yard line. Remound Wright carried seven yards to the three, and Hogan connected with Lee Ward on a three-yard jump-pass touchdown on the ensuing play, quickly putting the Cardinal up 7-0.

Kurt Svoboda of Stanford University noted it was the fifth-year senior's first-career touchdown reception:

Utah's offense took the field looking for the equalizer. Quarterback Travis Wilson completed a couple of passes to get the Utes an early first down, and facing a 3rd-and-11 shortly after, he notched another with a 12-yard scamper.

Following a couple of nice runs by Devontae Booker, Utah found itself in Stanford territory. Unfortunately, an ill-timed false start was too much of a setback for the offense to handle and punted as a result. On the bright side, kicker Tom Hackett delivered a nice punt that was downed at the 5-yard line, pinning the Cardinal deep in their own territory.

This began a series of strong defensive stands; however, solid punting by Cardinal kicker Ben Rhyne, along with a catching-interference penalty on Utah gave Stanford some nice field position, starting at the Utes' 49-yard line early in the second quarter.

The Cardinal couldn't take advantage, as an Austin Hooper fumble was recovered by Eric Rowe, giving Utah new life.

Wilson began to take matters into his own hands from there. After a couple of short runs, he completed a 32-yard pass to Kenneth Scott all the way down to the Stanford 28-yard line. A completion to Booker got the Utes within the red zone, and the quarterback capped off the drive four plays later with a two-yard touchdown run.

Here's a look at the score, via Utah Athletics:

Both quarterbacks continued to struggle under pressure on the ensuing drives, and the half ended without another point scored.

Robert Jackson of KSL-TV tweeted the first-half stats for both teams:

Things didn't improve for either team in the third quarter, as defensive blitz schemes were too much for both quarterbacks to handle.

Utah started strong with a 20-yard run from Booker, but a Henry Anderson sack of Wilson set the offense back 11 yards and forced a punt. This continued to be quite a trend throughout the quarter, as Anderson found his way to the quarterback twice more.

Andy Drukarev of Rivals.com noted the two career highs on the night for the defensive end:

Three three-and-outs kicked off the fourth quarter, and the Stanford offense began to show a glimmer of life thereafter, as Kelsey Young checked in and rattled off runs of nine and eight yards to begin the drive.

Unfortunately, the Cardinal were their own worst enemy. A personal foul on Wright set the team back 15 yards after finally reaching Utes' territory. Hogan and Montgomery hooked up for a 20-yard gain soon after to nullify the penalty; however, a holding call on Ward on the following play promptly ended the drive with a punt.

With just 1:38 remaining in the game, Utah received the ball at its own 7-yard line. Stanford forced a punt, looking to get into position for a game-winning field goal, but a 49-yard boot by Hackett ensured the fourth quarter would end without any points scored.

Head coach David Shaw was asked why he didn't attempt a 51-yard field goal instead of punting and Drukarev tweeted his answer:

The game went into overtime, and Pacific Takes tweeted exactly how long it was since any points were scored in this contest:

That was about to change.

It only took one play for Utah to find paydirt in overtime, as Hogan hooked up with the infamous Kaelin Clay—he pulled the DeSean Jackson against Oregon—for a touchdown. Bryan Fischer of NFL.com tweeted his thoughts:

Although, Stanford would answer right back, as Hooper atoned for his previous fumble by hauling in a 14-yard touchdown strike from Hogan to tie the game back up.

Utah's defense came back to life on another Stanford overtime drive, holding the Cardinal from gaining any kind of steam and forcing a Jordan Williamson 51-yard field goal. The kick was true, but the defensive stand put the Utes in the driver's seat.

After quickly finding themselves at the 3-yard line, Wilson rifled a bullet to Kenneth Scott, who ran a perfect slant for the game-winning score. The Utah Athletics Twitter account relayed the exciting conclusion:

A loss by Stanford drops the team to 5-5 for the year. Shaw spoke of his take on the team's performance after the game, via Matthew Piper of The Salt Lake Tribune:

This team began the season with high expectations, finding itself ranked in the nation's top 25 earlier; however, disappointment ensued, and the Cardinal are still one win shy of bowl eligibility with just two games remaining.

The Cardinal finish their season on a two-game road trip, taking on California in Week 13 and UCLA in Week 14. Neither game is a sure thing, as both teams have offenses that can rival Stanford's stout defense.

Utes coach Kyle Whittingham praised his players following the game, via Piper:

Utah's victory moves the team to 7-3 on the season and will surely keep it in the nation's top 25 for at least another week. The Utes have a difficult contest against Arizona in Week 12 and finish the season at Colorado. If they can win out, they should be looking at a fairly prestigious bowl game.

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Kentucky vs. Tennessee: Game Grades, Analysis for Wildcats and Volunteers

The Tennessee Volunteers cruised to a blowout 50-16 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday evening.

Other than a game-opening drive that culminated in a field goal and a brief pass-heavy drive late in the second quarter, Kentucky's once-explosive offense never really put up a fight against Tennessee's rebounding defense.

As dominant as Tennessee's defense was, the offense performed even better. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs ended his night at the beginning of the fourth quarter with nearly 300 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air to go with nearly 50 yards rushing and one touchdown on the ground.

Overall, it was a nearly perfect game for the Vols and a disaster on several levels for the Wildcats. 

Here are the halftime and final game grades for both teams using statistics from NCAA.com's game recap

 

Tennessee Volunteers Game Grades

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

 

Passing Offense

Joshua Dobbs threw for nearly 300 yards, and much of that production came in the first half.

Dobbs is remarkably efficiency at hitting receivers on must-complete third-down situations, but he's still a little shaky at times, as he overthrew a few wide-open receivers. 

In fact, a 300-yard performance could easily have been a 350-yard performance were it not for a few timing errors and overthrows. Had Dobbs played the entire game instead of just three quarters, it's likely he would have gone for 400-plus yards against Kentucky's defense.

 

Pass Defense

Aside from a strong opening drive and a last, desperate gasp of air right before the half, Patrick Towles and his backup, Reese Phillips, were both held in check for most of the game.

Kentucky finished the night with just 168 yards passing, and most of that came on chunk plays right before the half to give the Wildcats 10 quick points. The Vols secondary also broke up several passes, one of which would have been a touchdown.

 

Rushing Offense

Dobbs rushed for nearly 50 yards and one touchdown, and Jalen Hurd added 118 yards and another touchdown on the ground for the Vols. 

Although Kentucky stopped the Vols from breaking off any big runs, Tennessee still managed to average 4.2 yards per carry, which allowed the team to move the chains and march right down the field. 

 

Rush Defense

Towles was Kentucky's leading rusher with 29 yards on the night. Tennessee's front four held the Wildcats' ground game to just 94 total yards, and without a rushing attack to fall back on, Kentucky's offense quickly fell apart.

 

Special Teams

Aaron Medley missed an extra point and a field goal, but he still put 14 points on the board for the Vols.

Medley isn't perfect, but he's a pretty reliable weapon for Tennessee inside the 40-yard line, which is great news considering he's only a freshman. 

Matt Darr also had a solid night punting the game, backing Kentucky's offense up and allowing Tennessee's defense to pin them deep and get great field position. 

Evan Berry's 50-yard kickoff return also provided a huge spark to the offense and led to seven quick points to start the second half and essentially seal the victory for Tennessee. 

 

Coaching

Other than a debatable call to squib-kick before halftime that led to three points for the Wildcats, Tennessee's coaches called a solid game all around. 

The offense fired on all cylinders, and the defense had few breakdowns. It was a solid job by Butch Jones, Mike Bajakian and John Jancek.

 

Kentucky Wildcats Game Grades

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

 

 

Passing Offense

Towles looked sharp on Kentucky's first drive of the game, but after an ankle injury sent him to the locker room for a couple of offensive series, he never really regained his composure.

To make matters worse, Towles' backup, Phillips, threw for zero yards and one pick-six. 

Without an effective passing game, the Wildcats were dead in the water as soon as Towles left the game. 

 

Pass Defense

Dobbs was 19-of-29, but at least half of his off-target passes were due to poor timing or errant throws. Kentucky's secondary just didn't have an answer for Tennessee's wide receiver corps, and the defensive line only sacked Dobbs once and couldn't keep him from connecting on critical third-down conversions.

 

Rushing Offense

It's not necessarily a bad thing when a quarterback leads a team in rushing, but it definitely is when his rushing only leads to 29 yards.

Kentucky just couldn't get anything going on the ground, and the offensive line appeared gassed and overmatched shortly after the game started. 

 

Rush Defense

The Wildcats managed to limit big runs by Tennessee, but they couldn't stop Hurd from gaining four or five yards on nearly every carry. 

Tennessee's relentless rushing attack eventually wore down the Kentucky defense and allowed the Vols to cruise down the field with ease.

 

Special Teams

Austin MacGinnis made all three field goals, including a huge 54-yarder right before the half.

However, Kentucky gave up a big punt return to Evan Berry that led to immediate points for Tennessee to open the half, and Landon Foster's punts left much to be desired. Not a great performance by this unit for the Wildcats, which is becoming a recurring theme this season.

 

Coaching

It's tough to fault Mark Stoops for losing a game like this, especially playing on the road after eight games without a bye week and four consecutive losses.

However, Stoops' team appeared to lay down immediately after Tennessee scored to open the second half, and in fact, the play-calling in the third quarter even seemed to suggest that Stoops was trying to speed up the inevitable loss.

The Wildcats still have a lot to play for in two weeks when they take on Louisville, but they'll need a much more complete performance to stand a chance.

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Tennessee's Mascot Smokey Got Cold on the Sidelines, Given a Blanket and Hat

With temperatures in the 30s in Knoxville for Tennessee's matchup vs. Kentucky, the Volunteers' live mascot, Smokey, got a little chilly on the sidelines.

It wasn't anything a blanket and a furry hat couldn't fix, though.

Smokey took it like a champ, embracing the hat and blanket for warmth. He made sure to still show his support with a Vols logo on his collar.  

Smokey undoubtedly deserves a spot in the Mascot Hall of Fame for these photos alone. 

[Twitter]

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Northwestern vs. Notre Dame: Game Grades, Analysis for the Fighting Irish

It was supposed to be a bounce-back game for Notre Dame.  It was supposed to be a statement game for Notre Dame.  It was supposed to be a statement to the College Football Playoff committee that Notre Dame was still worthy of consideration for a "New Year's Six" bowl.

Nobody told Northwestern, and the Wildcats strolled into South Bend and hung around until the time was right to strike.  Despite being favored by more than two touchdowns, Notre Dame allowed the Wildcats to stay in the game long enough to eventually pull off the victory in overtime.

From Notre Dame's perspective, it wasn't pretty.  Let's rip off the Band-Aid quickly and dive right into our postmortem of the Irish's shocking loss to Northwestern with some game grades.

Oh, and Notre Dame?  We're going to need a parent or guardian to sign this and get it back to us by Monday.

 

Pass Offense

Don't worry, it's not all doom and gloom.  There were actually some decent moments for the Irish.  Everett Golson, despite a first half that included yet another interception, actually finished with halfway decent numbers.

Golson finished 21-of-40 for 287 yards and three touchdowns, plus that aforementioned interception.  Golson also battled through some obvious pain in his throwing shoulder in the second half after landing awkwardly while being tackled.

William Fuller caught all three of Golson's touchdowns passes and finished the night with 159 receiving yards to lead all receivers in the game.

Still, we're not going to heap too much praise on the passing game as a whole.  As mentioned, the halfway decent showing from Golson only deserves a halfway decent grade—which is further reduced by some pretty ugly drops from the receiving corps.

There really wasn't a single culprit, and both the Irish and Wildcats had a hard time catching balls that were thrown right into their hands.

 

Run Offense

We'll start by breaking down the numbers: 40 credited rushes for 211 yards (5.3 average) and two touchdowns.  OK, not bad.

But you have to dig beyond the box score to get the real story.  It wasn't about the yards or the touchdowns tonight.  It was all about the fumbles.

Notre Dame lost three fumbles on the evening, two of which were particularly costly late in the game.  First, Chris Brown, while reaching for the goal line, lost control of the football, which was recovered by Northwestern in the end zone for a touchback.

Take at least six points off of the board.

Then, with under two minutes to go and Northwestern out of timeouts, Notre Dame simply needed to chew a little clock to seal the victory.  Instead, the typically reliable Cam McDaniel has the ball stripped, giving Northwestern a shot to march down the field and kick the tying field goal—which the Wildcats conveniently did.

Oh, and Golson fumbled the ball once, too, just for good measure.

We're not going to flunk the entire running game (although we're tempted to), but this grade isn't going to be pretty.  Heck, we think even a low C- is a bit of a gift.

 

Pass Defense

Notre Dame's defense continues to battle injuries, but we're not going to buy that excuse forever, especially against a team like Northwestern.  This is, after all, the same Northwestern team that could only manage nine measly points against a pretty terrible Michigan squad last week.

Trevor Siemian put up 284 yards on a 30-of-48 outing that included one touchdown pass.

The Irish did pick off two passes (Matthias Farley and Cole Luke each with an interception), and both were returned for sizable yardage (55 total yards).  But when it really counted, late in the fourth quarter, the Irish couldn't contain the Northwestern receivers.

While defending against the deep pass in the final minute, the Irish secondary apparently forgot about the short-to-medium routes that allowed the Wildcats to move down the field in 10-to-15 yard increments.

When all the other team needs is a field goal to tie, you have to defend everything, not just the end zone.

 

Run Defense

There was once a time when a team—any team—would relish a lone rushing touchdown against the Fighting Irish.  Those days are gone.

Northwestern hung a whopping 263 yards and three rushing touchdowns on Notre Dame.  Now, Northwestern certainly has some talent, but one should never expect an offensive line out of Evanston to push around a defensive line from South Bend, injuries or not.

Certainly the late loss of defensive lineman Sheldon Day to an apparent knee injury was a major loss, but that doesn't make up for the over 200 yards the Irish gave up before Day left the game, does it?

Northwestern averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 48 attempts, and the Irish gave up runs of 45 and 44 yards to Treyvon Green and Justin Jackson, respectively.

 

Special Teams

If you were waiting for us to take a positional unit out to the woodshed, this one is for you.

We try to be fair each week to every grouping, giving credit where credit is due and avoiding flunking the entire class because of the misdeeds of a few.  But there are so few unique pieces to a special teams unit that it's hard to find the good in tonight's performance.

What happened to Kyle Brindza?  This kid used to be automatic from anything inside of around 45 yards.  Now, he can't make a field goal to save his life.

What's worse, some of his opportunities are lost due to bad snaps, bad holds and absent-minded blocking.

Brindza was 0-of-2 on field goals (including one in overtime) and 4-of-5 on extra points.

Why is that missed extra point a big deal?  It was thanks to a botched hold by Malik Zaire, subsequently blocked and returned for two points by Northwestern.  That's a three-point swing.  Take that away and this game never gets to overtime.

Or, add that missed field goal in regulation.  There's six total points right there thanks to the kicking game.

But wait, there's even more!  At the risk of being flagged for piling on, we have to talk about Brindza's punting.  We've become accustomed to seeing punts of 45, 50 or even 60 yards from this guy.  Tonight, we were treated to an average of 35—which included a 17-yard punt in the fourth quarter that set up Northwestern's last touchdown.

You know what?  At this point, it's not even worth going into the return game. (For the record, Notre Dame had zero punt return yards on one attempt and averaged 19 yards on seven kick returns.)  You fail.  You all fail.

 

Coaching

Now, do we dare fail Brian Kelly for this atrocious performance?

If Kelly calls last week the "debacle in the desert," we're anxious to see how he sums this one up.  What we really would like to know, truthfully, is what possible benefit there was to going for two late in the game?  

Notre Dame had just scored a touchdown to go up by 11 with the extra point to come.  To go up by 12 would force Northwestern to score two touchdowns to win.  Going up by 13 doesn't change the arithmetic.  Failing on a two-point conversion, however, would mean that the Wildcats would be a field goal plus a touchdown with two-point conversion away from tying.

Well, guess what happened.

As if to prove the old axiom "it's not over until it's over" true, Kelly gave Northwestern just the opportunity it needed to tie the game.

And with the type of kicking game Kelly has at his disposal, what did he think was going to happen in overtime?  Was Brindza suddenly going to trot out and say, "Just kidding, coach.  I was faking all along.  This is a cinch.  I'll just kick it through, no problem," or anything along those lines?

Yes, the passing game wasn't stellar.  Sure, the run game coughed up the ball.  Yes, the special teams bore a striking resemblance to a sub-.500 prep squad.  But Kelly had his team in a position to win this game, and he gave it away.

Blame Golson or McDaniel or Brown or Brindza if you'd like, but this one, coach, has as much to do with you as it does with any of them.

The only reason—and we really mean only reason—Kelly isn't flunking is because there's still a small shred of truth to the notion that players have to execute the plays called.  That didn't happen tonight.

But in the future, Mr. Kelly, we expect better from you.  Better play-calling, that is.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer. Box score via NCAA.com.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist, David Luther, on Twitter!

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Arkansas Fan Struggles Mightily with Smartphone with Gloves on in Cold Weather

Weather in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the Arkansas-LSU game was in the low 30s on Saturday night, which definitely warranted a warm jacket and gloves. 

The only problem, however, is that the pesky smartphone screens don't respond to most requests through a winter glove, which this Razorbacks fan found out the hard way. 

On the plus side, at least that jacket is both warm and shows his team spirit. 

[Vine]

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Alabama's Swarming Defense Kills Dak Prescott's Heisman Campaign

Dak Prescott played his worst game of the season in the game in which his team could least afford it, throwing three interceptions in a 25-20 loss at Alabama.

The final score says Mississippi State lost by five points and outgained Alabama by 97 yards, but in this case, numbers do lie. Prescott threw his second touchdown with 15 seconds left on the clock, making things seem closer than they were when in fact the game was over—for all intents and purposes—a few drives earlier.

Two of Prescott's picks came inside the red zone, including one in the end zone in the third quarter and one on Mississippi State's second-to-last possession. Alabama swarmed and hit and confused the Heisman front-runner until he looked like he was anything but.

Prescott's Heisman run crashed and burned in Tuscaloosa—or if you prefer, it was crashed into and set aflame.

Either way, it is now a mound of ash.

Prescott finished with decent enough numbers, throwing for 290 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 82 yards on 22 carries.

But don't let the look of that fool you. Just like Mississippi State was more than five points worse than its opponent, Prescott was more than 100 yards worse than his final stat line.

The Bulldogs' first six drives, for example, ended like this: punt, safety, punt, interception, punt, punt. The interception drive was the only drive that gained more than 30 yards, and the first drive was the only other drive that gained more than six yards.

The other four drives gained an average of less than a foot.

Mississippi State came within three seconds of failing to score in the first half for the first time since…last year's Alabama game (of course). It entered with the No. 13 offense in the country, per the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, but Alabama made it look out of sorts.

Never was that more clear than on the Bulldogs' final possession, which took 3:03 of the residual 3:18 off the clock. Time and timeouts were wasted in the red zone because head coach Dan Mullen refused to let Prescott make a(nother) mistake. The offense was running QB draws and sprint options on intuitive passing downs.

"Besides [the mistakes], he played really well," Mullen said of Prescott, per Bob Carskadon of HailState.com. "Gave us everything he got."

Yeah. Except a player they could trust to make a throw.

The reality is that Alabama's defense won at every level Saturday: in the trenches, over the middle and in the secondary.

Defensive end A'Shawn Robinson was a monster, tipping Prescott's third interception at the line. Safety Nick Perry was a missile, finishing with 12 total tackles and a pick. Cornerback Cyrus Jones—once considered the biggest liability on the team—was tested and tested and tested, and he passed and he passed and he passed.

In its previous home game, Alabama pitched a shutout against Texas A&M. The home game before that, it held Florida to 200 total yards. On Saturday, it laid waste to a year-long Heisman campaign.

The Crimson Tide at home are the surest bet in college football, which is bad news for the rest of the conference—and the non-SEC College Football Playoff contenders—because they won't be leaving Tuscaloosa for the rest of the regular season.

Which means they likely won't be losing another game.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon's Insane 408-Yard Game Makes RB Heisman Front-Runner

Entering this weekend, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the Heisman Trophy front-runner, and justifiably so. The Ducks junior is enjoying an excellent season for the College Football Playoff contender: 29 touchdown passes, two interceptions and 2,780 passing yards.

But while Mariota enjoyed a well-deserved off day Saturday, another candidate surged past him in snowy Madison, Wisconsin.

Following the best single-game rushing performance in NCAA history, Wisconsin junior tailback Melvin Gordon is the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Against a solid Nebraska defense, Gordon carried 25 times for 408 yards and four touchdowns, breaking former TCU tailback LaDainian Tomlinson’s FBS single-game rushing record of 406 yards and keying the Badgers’ 59-24 demolition.

It was the most impressive effort by any player in college football this season, and it should put Gordon into pole position for the Heisman Trophy when it is awarded Dec. 13 in New York City.

Make no mistake: Gordon had been good this season. He entered Saturday with 1,501 yards and 19 touchdowns in nine full games. He’d rushed for at least 122 yards in all but one of those games, going over 200 yards three times (including a 13-carry, 253-yard, five-touchdown effort against Bowling Green).

But Saturday was Gordon’s magnum opus. Nebraska’s rushing defense had been solid this season (allowing 123.8 rushing yards per game, No. 19 nationally), but he ground it into dust, leaving flailing bodies and missed tackles in his wake.

He made all the runs. Gordon was good going up the middle. He was good going around the edges. And you’d better believe he was good streaking down the sidelines with Nebraska tacklers futilely chasing after him. He averaged 16.3 yards per carry.

Most impressive? He didn’t even carry the ball in the fourth quarter. With two regular-season games remaining, Gordon has 1,909 rushing yards and averages 8.6 yards per carry.

While Wisconsin is not a College Football Playoff contender following losses to LSU and Northwestern, the Badgers are a Top 20 team that will challenge for the Big Ten championship.

The Heisman qualifications say nothing about a player’s team and its overall success, or lack thereof. It is ultimately an individual award. As the qualifications read, it is awarded to “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." 

That certainly fits Gordon. That said, where would Wisconsin be without him? The Badgers have struggled to find consistency at quarterback this season, with neither Joel Stave nor Tanner McEvoy finding sustained success. Take Gordon away, and they’d be average at best.

Mariota has been a key for Oregon, but the Ducks also have an excellent running game featuring Royce Freeman, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner as well as a passable defense. Take away Mariota, and the Ducks would at least win the Pac-12 North.

Mississippi State junior quarterback Dak Prescott has been touted as a prime Heisman candidate, but he struggled Saturday on his biggest stage at No. 5 Alabama. Prescott threw three interceptions and passed for 290 yards and two touchdowns in the No. 1 Bulldogs’ 25-20 defeat.

Gordon has been the nation’s most outstanding individual player this season. When he hoists the stiff-arm trophy in mid-December, Saturday’s effort will be a prime reason why. 

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Mississippi State vs. Alabama: Game Grades, Analysis for Bulldogs and Tide

The No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide jumped out to a 19-0 advantage and toppled the top-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs 25-20.

Blake Sims and Co. made a serious case for the No. 1 ranking with a clutch late-game drive, accompanied by an outstanding defensive performance.

Pass Offense: Though Dak Prescott threw for 290 yards and two scores, he tossed three crushing interceptions. De'Runnya Wilson tallied a team season-high eight receptions and accounted for 91 yards, while Jameon Lewis and Fred Ross reeled in a touchdown each. A handful of drops also contributed to the Bulldogs' downfall.

Run Offense: Prescott and Josh Robinson managed just 34 rushing yards during the opening half before Prescott started to find some room after the break. His running ability was a major difference in a near-comeback by Mississippi State, but the effort would've been enhanced by a two-dimensional attack.

Pass Defense: While the Bulldogs ceded a deep completion to Amari Cooper and Jalston Fowler, it was a product of Cooper's leaping ability and excellent play design. Otherwise, the defensive backfield had a respectable performance.

Run Defense: Mississippi State surrendered just two runs of 10-plus yards and only seven first downs, keeping Sims, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry under control. Its front seven were simply outstanding, despite giving up two short touchdowns.

Special Teams: Devon Bell had a couple horrid punts, recording a mere 33.8-yard average. Evan Sobiesk buried field goals from 23 yards and 32 yards.

Coaching: The defense allowed just 335 total yards, so D-coordinator Geoff Collins prepared his unit well for the Tide. On the other side, though, Dan Mullen had questionable clock management and play-calling as the final quarter was winding down.

 

Pass Offense: Sims completed 19 of 31 attempts for 211 yards and one touchdown, connecting with Cooper eight times for 88 yards and the lone score. Sims was confident in the pocket and avoided questionable decisions. The offensive line allowed just one sack on 35 dropbacks.

Run Offense: Mississippi State followed LSU's blueprint and kept Sims in the pocket, but the shifty quarterback converted two crucial third downs with his legs. Yeldon and Henry combined for 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Pass Defense: The secondary allowed passing lanes underneath but was only beat deep twice. Nick Perry, Cyrus Jones and Landon Collins each recorded interceptions, each of which came in Alabama territory.

Run Defense: Prescott and Robinson were contained all game long, though the former had 58 yards during the second half. Most importantly, however, the defensive linemen disrupted the line of scrimmage and forced runs to be bounced outside—which is not conducive to beating the Tide.

Special Teams: Adam Griffith nailed a 36-yard field goal but pushed a 37-yarder wide right. Freshman punter JK Scott continued his brilliant season with a 45.6-yard average. Alabama limited the Bulldogs to 17.2 yards per kick return. 

Coaching: Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart showed his brilliance by calling a weak-side safety blitz that resulted in a safety. The offense, however, struggled at times, but Lane Kiffin relied on Sims to lead the Tide to victory—and he did.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Beware, College Football, Alabama Has Found Championship Killer Instinct

Blake Sims is just stacking signature moments at this point.

On Saturday, Alabama once again used the run game to salt away a home win over an SEC opponent—only this time the ball wasn't in a big, bruising running back's hands. No, it was Sims' mobility and killer instinct that allowed the Crimson Tide to salt the game away in the fourth quarter.

Sims hit T.J. Yeldon on a third down that kept the drive alive. Then he had third-down scrambles of 10 and 11 yards. They were the kind of plays a championship quarterback makes in a tight game against the No. 1 team.

The gravity of his quarterback's performance was not lost on Nick Saban.

In his postgame press conference, the Alabama coach—not one for bold statements or hyperbole—gushed about the poise of Sims and the importance of the drive:

Sims doesn't deserve all the credit for Alabama's 25-20 win over Mississippi State. The defense set the tone early, and the Crimson Tide running backs certainly played a huge part in demoralizing Mississippi State late in the game.

However, it will be Sims' clutch plays in the fourth quarter that Alabama fans will remember.

Those were the kinds of moments Alabama regularly produced when it was winning three championships in four years. Watching it happen again should have the rest of college football shaking in its boots.

Call it an LSU hangover. Call it underrating No. 1 Mississippi State. Call it whatever you want.

Alabama didn't look its best for stretches of its 25-20 win over the Bulldogs, but the Tide did what champions do and bowed up when it needed to. It got stops when it needed to. And it scored when it needed to, executing a classic break-your-back drive that was season-defining.

And so Alabama took another step toward the College Football Playoff. It added a signature win to its resume, and now the Iron Bowl is all that stands in its way to an SEC Championship Game return and playoff berth.

It’s the killer instinct the Tide that displayed tonight that could be the difference between a championship and another late-season disappointment.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon Takes Home CFB's Top Performer for Week 12

Melvin Gordon, welcome to college football fame. The junior running back broke the FBS single-game rushing record with a staggering 408 rushing yards to go along with four touchdowns, earning him the honor of our top performer for Week 12. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder takes us through one of the best individual performances in college football history.

Does Gordon belong in the Heisman Trophy conversation?

Check out the video and let us know!  

 

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Nebraska's Failure to Make Adjustments Cost Huskers Playoff, Big Ten Title Shot

Football is pretty simple. At least that's what Bo Pelini thinks.

After the University of Wisconsin's 59-24 victory over the University of Nebraska, it felt anything but that. Yet, that's exactly what Pelini said in his postgame press conference.

Maybe football is simple. It hasn't been for the Huskers, though. After what was projected to be a big season for Pelini and his team, Nebraska has now lost its control at winning the Big Ten West and competing for a Big Ten championship title. Instead, Wisconsin holds the honor.

Badgers running back Melvin Gordon played a big part in that. Against Nebraska, he rushed 25 times for a total of 408 yards, which became the most rushing yards in school history against Nebraska.

"Melvin Gordon is a hell of a back, but we played a part in that as well," Pelini said.

And he's right. Gordon is a talented player all on his own. There is no denying that. However, the Nebraska defense did itself no favors in its performance against Gordon.

"I thought it was substandard as the game went on," Pelini said. "That was disappointing."

Most disappointing? Not only did Nebraska lose control of the Big Ten West, but it seems unlikely the Huskers will head to the championship game at this point. Additionally, the outside shot at the College Football Playoffs is gone.

"At the end of the day, I take responsibility for this football team and how we played, and it wasn’t good enough," Pelini confirmed.

It definitely was not good enough. Wisconsin rushed for 581 total yards, which is the most ever against Nebraska. The previous record, believe it or not, belonged to Wisconsin from the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game with 539 yards.

It would seem that Wisconsin has Nebraska's number. Now that the two are on the same side of the Big Ten conference, the Huskers need to adjust. Yet, failure to do so is exactly what plagued Nebraska once again.

In Pelini's seven years as head coach, the Huskers have often failed to adjust as a game went on. Another example of this would be the 2013 UCLA game. While the Huskers led 21-10 in the first half, UCLA ultimately came back to win 41-21. While the Bruins clearly adjusted throughout the game, Nebraska did not.

Against Wisconsin, it happened once again. When asked how exactly Gordon could be allowed to run for so many yards, Pelini didn't have a good answer.

"I have no idea," he said.

That should be alarming. It's the lack of understanding that cost the Huskers a shot at the playoffs and likely a trip to Indianapolis. Failure to adjust was clearly a big part of the overall outcome of this game.

Wisconsin, like UCLA did last year, made the needed adjustments. After all, Gordon only had 49 yards in the first quarter. To go from that to a total of 408 yards proves the Badgers adjusted as the game went on. Nebraska, on the other hand, did not.

If Pelini really has no idea how the Blackshirts could allow that to happen, red flags should be raised. It speaks volumes about the program and the mentality that ultimately goes into each and every game.

Pelini doesn't seem to buy into that idea, though. At least, he didn't during his postgame press conference.

"I don't get into this big picture stuff," he said. "It was one football game. This program has won a lot of games."

It was one football game that meant much more, though. And that ultimately requires getting into the big picture stuff, whether Pelini wants to or not.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand via the Huskers' postgame press conference, unless otherwise noted.

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