Notre Dame turned in its most complete offensive performance of the 2013 season last Saturday night in a 37-34 win over No. 22 Arizona State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Irish gained over 450 yards, allowed no sacks and committed just one turnover.
How did the Irish succeed against an attacking Sun Devils defense that has yet to find a blitz it doesn't like? Let's look at the various formations the Fighting Irish used against it.
First, some background information. Notre Dame runs plays almost exclusively out of either the shotgun or pistol formation. The pistol differs from the classic shotgun in that, while the quarterback is not under center, a running back is lined up behind the quarterback.
Personnel groupings are identified by two-digit numbers such as "12" (one running back and two tight ends), "11" (one running back and one tight end) or "21" (two running backs and one tight end). With 12 and 21 personnel, there are two wide receivers. With 11, there are three. Make sense? OK.
Run vs. Pass
It doesn't take a playoff selection committee member to know that Notre Dame installed the pistol offense this offseason to boost its rushing attack. From rewatching the Arizona State game, however, it was noticeable just how infrequently the Irish threw the ball out of the pistol.
Conversely, the Irish passed out of the shotgun at nearly a 4-1 ratio. Of course, the empty set (no running backs), a Brian Kelly staple, is going to be strictly a passing formation with a quarterback like Tommy Rees. The history of Rees as a runner pretty much amounts to one touchdown on a designed quarterback draw in the 2012 Michigan game.
While not having a running back to help block can be risky, Kelly likes the luxury of having an additional pass option that the empty set provides. The Irish will run this formation with either three wide receivers and two tight ends or four wide receivers and one tight end.
With no threat of a run, this formation obviously requires Notre Dame to tip its hand before the snap. The Irish ran 20 plays out of this formation with Rees (and one with Andrew Hendrix), getting mixed results.
As evident in the completion-distance breakdown, the Irish are getting a lot of "chunk" plays out of the empty set, with four receptions of at least 20 yards last Saturday night. Rees' completion percentage has been low all season, as expected when the defense knows a pass is coming, but his yards-per-completion average against Arizona State was an impressive 19.0.
What constitutes an unbalanced formation can be murky. For the sake of this discussion, an unbalanced formation refers to the Irish lining up both tight ends on the same side of the ball.
When Notre Dame plays two tight ends, as it does frequently with Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack, they can either be on opposite sides of the ball or on the same side (duh), with Koyack generally slightly off of the line scrimmage when the formation is unbalanced.
This is a run-heavy formation, with the Irish throwing just once out of it Saturday night. On 15 carries, Notre Dame managed 76 yards, a respectable 5.1 yards per carry.
The more interesting result from Saturday night was the effectiveness of Cam McDaniel in it compared to George Atkinson III.
From a second viewing of the game, it was somewhat alarming to see the severity of the run/pass split out of the pistol formation. Rees completed two of his three pass attempts from the pistol, one going for a 19-yard touchdown to a wide-open Koyack.
There is a play-action element to the pistol due to the ability to carry out the fake much faster than with the quarterback under center. While a more mobile Everett Golson, who is better at throwing on the run than Rees, would be a better fit, I'd like to see Notre Dame throw more than 14 percent of the time out of the pistol.
Atkinson received eight of nine carries out of the shotgun, two going for at least nine yards. This is a testament to Atkinson's ability to change directions, a crucial element when running out of the shotgun and not already being in motion when receiving the ball.
The unbalanced formation allows Notre Dame to utilize its dominant left side of the line. Adding Niklas and Koyack to tackle Zack Martin and guard Chris Watt is an extremely difficult matchup for opposing defenses without significant backside pressure.
Notre Dame's offense was about as predictable as you can get on Saturday night. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially with the Irish controlling the line of scrimmage against an overmatched Arizona State front seven. However, while Tommy Rees' physical attributes limit the capabilities of this offense, there is room for more diversity than what we saw Saturday night in Texas.
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Michigan is on the brink of starting the season at 6-0 under coach Brady Hoke for the first time since 2011, the year he took over the program.
But if the No. 18-ranked Wolverines are to equal Hoke's best start thus far, they'll have to find a way to climb past coach Bill O'Brien's Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2) at the oh-so-unfriendly confines of Happy Valley.
Thanks to Week 6's 42-13 thrashing of Minnesota, Michigan, which is 10-6 against Penn State, finally appears to be a legitimate Big Ten contender—a status they held firm to prior to the start of this fall.
However, preseason hype turned into in-season disappointment after struggling against Akron and UConn. The time is now for Team 134's elite to step forward and take hold of what has been a wildly inconsistent 2013.
The good news is that they've recently shown signs of doing so, and that bodes well for Hoke's chances on Saturday.
This past weekend, Devin Gardner threw for 235 yards and a touchdown in the victory over the Gophers. But his biggest accomplishment was maintaining composure and, most importantly, possession of the ball; he was turnover-free for the first time this year.
Making himself known wasn't a problem for Devin Funchess, a sophomore receiver/tight end hybrid who reeled in seven catches for a career-high 151 yards and a touchdown in the homecoming triumph at The Big House.
There's a slight chance that star linebacker Jake Ryan could see action against Penn State. The junior suffered an ACL tear during the spring, but he's inching closer to full health, according to a report from CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli.
If the pieces fall together for Hoke, Michigan will reach 6-0 and bowl eligibility before trudging through the rest of its conference schedule. If the pieces fail to adhere to one another, well, it'll be a long October.
Avoiding a Letdown
In 2011, the Wolverines were ready to show that they were capable of moving past the Rich Rodriguez era. At 6-0, facing Michigan State was the perfect opportunity. But as fate would have it, the Spartans rattled off their fourth straight series victory, ending Michigan's streak of early-season perfection.
All wasn't lost after that 28-14 setback; Hoke's team went on to win the 2012 BCS Sugar Bowl and finish the year with 11 wins.
This fall is a bit different, though. Michigan needs to reach 6-0 for many reasons, but the No. 1 reason is to prove that they're indeed legit, not a bunch of undefeated frauds. Already questioned due to issues of inconsistency, the Wolverines didn't play up to par in 2012, creating more pressure to perform in this season, Hoke's third at the helm.
O'Brien's Nittany Lions stand in the way, but downing them on the road should help restore a bit of optimism toward Team 134. Sure, youth has been shown and mistakes have been made, but this is still a solid group of athletes who can win the Big Ten.
Let's repeat that: This is still a solid group of athletes who can win the Big Ten.
Those who feel differently are grossly underestimating the expertise of Hoke's staff, which includes defensive mastermind Greg Mattison and offensive guru Al Borges.
Penn State hasn't wowed as of late. Led by true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg and junior wideout Allen Robinson, the Lions are struggling to find their niche after an embarrassing 44-24 loss to the lowly Indiana Hoosiers in Week 6.
Saturday is a crucial game for both sides. But Michigan has the most to lose. The Lions are rebuilding after being rocked by the Jerry Sandusky child molestation controversy. They're not expected to beat everyone and win their league; they're expected to put their chins up and go to work so that way they can compete in coming years.
The "coming year" is now for Hoke. He can't afford a loss; the Wolverines are in desperate need of a confidence-booster, and getting a conference win away from The Big House would serve as that.
The rest of the season hinges on this week being "lucky No. 7." Steve Heiser of the York Dispatch believes that Penn State has a fighting chance to capitalize on what could be a golden opportunity—and that's beating Hoke.
If Gardner Shines, Wolverines Roll
Gardner was noticeably more confident during the second half versus Minnesota. It probably helped that his team poured on 28 points, but that's beside the point.
Happy feet weren't as big of a problem as they were in previous weeks. Gardner couldn't get much done against Akron and UConn due to his inability to remain calm in the pocket.
When flushed out, he tends to force throws—and that's led to eight picks through six games.
Confidence may or may not be an issue, but his mindset has certainly gained a ton of coverage.
Some Wolverines fans may feel that Gardner isn't the right man for the job. That's fine; everyone has their opinion. Reasons have been given to doubt the 6'4", 210-pound former Inkster High phenom.
The same was true for Jason Campbell, who, after bumbling a bit, had a stellar career at Auburn while Borges called the shots on offense. Borges, now in his third year at Michigan, told the Detroit News' Angelique Chengilis that Gardner, is in a similar ordeal.
But it's not impossible to restore Gardner to the previous version that fans saw in 2012 while he ran the show for the injured Denard Robinson.
Borges successfully worked with Campbell. Per Chengilis' report, Borges claimed that he could do the same with Gardner:
I don't think it was any earth-shattering coaching [with Campbell]. All it was was making a kid believe that you still were convinced he was the answer when a lot of people might not have thought that. If the guy coaching you is the same way or starts scaring him, he will go out there and play so guarded you won't get anything out of him.
There has to be a delicate balance between keeping him aggressive and using good judgment and making sure he understands what you want—with not turning the ball over being at the top of the priority list.
Getting the second-half Gardner from Week 6 is imperative. Borges' experience speaks for itself, and if he still has the quarterback magic like he did while at Auburn, Gardner should be OK this Saturday.
Play Like It's The Big House
Beaver Stadium isn't as wild as Michigan Stadium, but it's not a welcoming place for visitors, especially at night. With a whiteout planned, more than 107,000 Penn State fans are expected to show up to boo the Wolverines.
How's that for taking a dose of their own medicine?
For the first time all year, Michigan faces a Big Ten crowd which reaches a level of crazy intensity just like the Maize and Blue followers do in Ann Arbor.
The chatter from the stands is a concern for senior All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan, who recently texted Hoke about the matter. Lewan said the following about the conversation, according to a report from Scout.com's Josh Newkirk.
... I think it's just different because we haven't played Penn State at Penn State since my redshirt freshman year and aside from me, Cam (Gordon), and maybe like one other guy; no one's really had significant snaps there. The noise isn't really that distracting, you have to be on your p's and q's—you have to know what your calls are going to be. Sometimes we will be standing face-to-face, and I won't be able to hear myself think or hear you talk. So it's a great atmosphere. I am sure it will be a white-out night game. Penn State's awesome; it's a fun place to play.
If anyone knows about the neighborhood that is the Big Ten, it's Lewan. The underclassmen stand to benefit by simply listening to Lewan's advice on how to faze out a hostile crowd. It's much more different than drawing inspiration from a stadium full of friendly supporters.
This time, everyone in the bleachers wants to see Michigan fail. Saturday will be an excellent learning experience for Team 134's youngsters.
The deck isn't stacked against Michigan's favor, but going to Happy Valley to challenge a developing team with a hotshot quarterback will be a monumental task for the secondary.
Conversely, facing Michigan's Blake Countess, who is tied for the national lead with four picks, will be quite the undertaking for Hackenberg, who was throwing to preps a year ago.
Hoke can get out of Pennsylvania with his perfect record intact if his team shows up in the way it did during the second half against Minnesota.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines' football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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The Tennessee Vols had to replace virtually their entire passing offense and revamp their historically inept defense following Derek Dooley's final season.
Now, sitting at 3-3 midway through 2013, the Vols are exactly where most figured they'd be under first-year coach Butch Jones. They've lost to Oregon, Florida and Georgia. They've beaten Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama.
UT nearly got upset by the Jaguars after a second-half letdown and nearly upset the No. 6 Bulldogs with a second-half surge.
Through it all, the Vols are within striking distance of a bowl game with a solid second half of the season, but they need to get production from new faces who've been playing all over the field. Eleven new regular starters dot the Tennessee lineup—some of which have been consistent and some that appear to be making strides and improving.
Let's take a look at all of those new players and assign them a mid-term grade.
A common offensive theme of BCS-qualifying teams is a potent rushing attack, a facet of the game Notre Dame must have at the top of its priority list during the remaining six games of its schedule.
While the task at hand is no different than the majority of programs across the country, the importance, significance and necessity of effectively running the ball for the Irish is seemingly unmatched. Why is that, you ask?
It begins at the quarterback position, where the success of Tommy Rees hinges upon the production of running backs George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle and Tarean Folston.
The quartet experienced a tumultuous start to the season, as it failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark in three of the Irish's first four contests. Those three contests—a loss at Michigan and two blood-pressure-increasing wins against Purdue and Michigan State—displayed the grotesque circumstances of placing the burden on Rees by essentially forcing him to win games as a passer.
But that's not who Rees is as a quarterback, unfortunately.
While the Lake Forest, Ill., native has been integral to the Irish in properly reading defenses and getting the offense in the right looks, the most flattering label Rees will ever receive is that of "game manager."
That condition was evident during Notre Dame's 35-21 loss to Oklahoma at Notre Dame Stadium two weeks ago.
Against a Sooner defense ranked 23rd nationally against the run, the Irish rushing attack finally emerged, piling up 220 yards while averaging five yards per carry.
On a good day, that rushing output would typically open up the passing game—the pistol formation in Notre Dame's case—on the way to a bevy of points. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, Rees had one of the worst performances of his career, completing just nine of 24 passing attempts for 104 yards, two touchdowns and three costly interceptions.
While Rees won't ever light up the stat sheet, atrocious performances, such as that against the Sooners, are an anomaly.
The first two of those three interceptions, while not directly attributable to Rees—left tackle Zack Martin missed a blitz protection assignment on the first, and receiver DaVaris Daniels miscalculated his route on the second—essentially gift-wrapped the Sooners' first two touchdowns.
Thus, it's fair to assume the Irish would have had a legitimate chance at knocking off then-No. 14 Oklahoma for the second consecutive season without those painful mistakes.
The argument can be made that the Notre Dame offense atoned for its inconsistent, lackluster performance against Oklahoma with a stellar outing against then-No. 22 Arizona State in Dallas. The unit had its most balanced performance of the season, posting 424 yards (279 passing, 145 rushing) against the Sun Devils.
Contextually, the impressive performance was to be expected, as the Sun Devils entered the contest ranked 92nd nationally against the run.
But another opportunity for the Irish offense to prove itself awaits in two weeks during the team's lone home night game of the season against USC.
The Trojans, while grabbing headlines for off-the-field issues this season, have been quietly dominant defensively, aside from a 62-41 drubbing at the hands of Arizona State. Having allowed just 44 points in the four games prior to that shellacking, I'm willing to deem the disappointing defensive performance as an outlier. (Remember, USC athletic director Pat Haden made the decision to fire former head coach Lane Kiffin during the third quarter.)
Regardless of the 21-point loss to Arizona State, the Trojans remain ranked 14th nationally in total defense and 13th nationally against the run, allowing an average of just 99.6 yards per game on the ground.
Should Notre Dame piece together a balanced offensive performance against USC, the Irish will have a template to look back on for the remainder of the season.
The Trojans, BYU and Stanford—the three most challenging opponents remaining on Notre Dame's schedule—are each tremendous defensive teams, meaning the Irish offense must establish and maintain both consistency and balance moving forward for the team's BCS hopes to remain alive.
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With last week's win over North Carolina, the Virginia Tech Hokies improved to 5-1 on the season, 2-0 in the ACC. This Saturday, the Hokies will renew acquaintances with former Big East rival Pittsburgh.
The Panthers head into this weekend's tilt with the Hokies at 3-1, 2-1 in conference play. This marks the first time that the schools will meet as ACC opponents. VT and Pitt were Big East rivals from 1993-2003.
The two schools played last season with Pittsburgh dominating the Hokies 35-17. It was one of the more embarrassing defensive performances in Virginia Tech's history under defensive coordinator Bud Foster. The Panthers passed for 283 yards and ran for 254 more. Fortunately for the Hokies, Pitt had to replace their quarterback, top two rushers and leading receiver from a year ago.
VT leads the all-time series, 7-5; however, Pitt has won the last four meetings. The Panthers were off last week after defeating Virginia two weeks ago.
- When: Saturday, October 12, 2013
- Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
- Time: 12 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPNU
- Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
- Spread: The Hokies are currently nine-point favorites.
Welcome to Bleacher Report's weekly college football State of the Union address, where we stack up each conference and break down where the power lies in the sport.
There is little surprise at which two conference are at the top: the SEC and the Pac-12. The SEC has four teams ranked the Top 11, while the Pac-12 has three, including two in the Top Five.
If all plays out as expected, the nation's two best conferences could be squaring off for the BCS title in January.
The ACC isn't far behind with Clemson and Florida State both looking like legitimate contenders. There is a bit of a drop-off after that, though, as the Big 12 and Big Ten haven't looked as strong as expected.
Check out those five conferences, as well as all the "little guys" in this week's conference power rankings.
Georgia looks to bounce back from injuries this Saturday, while Missouri tries to improve to 6-0.
Here's what you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Oct. 12
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Place: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
Radio: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network
Spread: Georgia by 9, via 5Dimes
As we approach the midway point of the regular season, it’s the perfect time to begin fantasizing about some of the best potential matches the BCS title has to offer.
Will Alabama’s reign atop the college football landscape extend to a third consecutive year? Or will a challenger step up and dethrone the mighty giant known as the SEC Conference?
These are just a couple of the questions every fan is dying to know.
With the first official BCS standings coming out this Sunday, we’ll soon get a better picture of how everything will shake out.
But for now, here are five title matchups we’d love to see.
Leonard Little was the Vol Legend of the Game last Saturday against Georgia. This weekly ceremony honors former football players that impacted the program and helped lay the foundation that Tennessee now stands upon. Little is one of these legends but hadn't been on the field since 1997.
Before leaving Shields-Watkins Field to thunderous applause, Little stopped and turned back toward the middle of the field, as if he'd forgotten something. Here's what he did:
To see a Super Bowl Champion, known for his vicious play in both college and pro, get down on hands and knees to kiss the T tells it all: The Vol Nation is strong and united, filled with loyalty.
While players and fans have always been loyal to Rocky Top, the uniform message and strategy is due in no small part to the work of Butch Jones.
Just one week ago, the Volunteers fell flat against South Alabama in the second half. After previously writing about the importance of improving throughout a tough October schedule, I had my doubts about the prospects for this season.
It's hard not to be impressed with the kind of grit the team has showed in the face of adversity. While Georgia's offense was decimated with injuries last weekend, the defense was in perfect health.
That didn't stop Justin Worley from leading three second-half touchdown drives. It didn't stop freshman Marquez North from reeling in the catch of the year. It didn't stop Rajion Neal from rumbling for 150 yards.
Per UTSports.com, Jones said he didn't need to deliver a halftime speech. When he walked in, three players were already doing it. They're united under a common cause.
Losing is Different
Both of the previous coaches had near-misses against great teams, just like Jones' 34-31 overtime loss to No. 6 Georgia. The difference is the way in which the game ended. It wasn't an accident that the Vols won or lost. It was totally planned and intended.
Compare that with the bad clock management and blocked field goal at Alabama in 2009. Compare that to the disorganization of the defense that led to a whirlwind loss at LSU in 2010.
This time, Tennessee lost because Pig Howard was stretching for the end zone in overtime. It wasn't because Justin Worley fumbled. It wasn't because the Volunteers ran out of timeouts.
Tennessee lost going for it all. If you're going to go down, that's the way to go down. They're fighting the same fight.
Recognition of Terrific Play
There's a silly saying, "There's no such things as moral victories." That's simply not true. There are, and the sold-out crowd of 102,455 fans at Neyland Stadium last Saturday showed that.
After Georgia had kicked the winning field goal, the Bulldogs rushed the field, and their fans went crazy. Nothing takes the wind out of the victors' sails than complete indifference to their victory, and that's what happened. Vol fans stood and loudly applaud the effort, the grit and the no-quit attitude that their team showed.
Between Leonard Little kissing the T and the crowd recognizing terrific play, even in a loss, I don't know if I've ever been prouder to be a Volunteer.
On Monday, I wore my Tennessee polo to work and got three comments from total strangers, all positive. Foes are impressed with the Vol Nation's unity. Fans are proud to be a part of such a contingency again.
You can thank Butch.
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The verbal sparring match between Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford head coach David Shaw that came to a head during Tuesday’s Pac-12 teleconference call brings a worthwhile discussion to the forefront.
College football is showing no signs of scaling back on the hurry-up offense. On the contrary—uptempo schemes are becoming more popular around the nation, and especially in the Pac-12.
The more prevalent such systems become, the more suspicious coaches are going to be about injuries.
There’s reason for paranoia. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit told Jon Solomon of AL.com defensive coaches “are actually practicing faking injuries.”
Shaw was adamant about the legitimacy of his players’ injuries, citing that linebacker Shayne Skov had an MRI on his knee Monday.
Still, one can understand Sarkisian’s frustration. From his perspective, what recourse does he have if an opponent fakes injuries?
Shaw alluded to one of the more unfortunate moments in recent Pac-12 history, when current Washington defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi, then an assistant at Cal, was suspended for instructing players to feign hurt against Oregon in 2010.
The strategy almost worked. Cal lost, 15-13, grinding down an Oregon offense that scored at least 42 points in every game prior.
That game is the most referenced in the discussion because it’s the only notable instance of any action coming from such a situation.
Athletic director Sandy Barbour suspended Lupoi, but only after the assistant publicly admitted to the strategy.
Without a confession, a skeptical coach is left only with suspicions. There’s little he can do after the fact, and virtually nothing during game play.
Rules dictate a player requiring stoppage sit out the next play. However, hurry-up offenses have teams now taking 80-to-90 snaps per game.
One play is a drop in the bucket if it means time to make needed defensive adjustments they are not otherwise afforded against a hurry-up. A lengthier waiting period would likely deter faking injury.
The problem then is that with growing concerns over player safety in all levels of football, imposing penalties that are too severe actually heightens risks.
A player who might otherwise come out for a couple of plays after having the wind knocked out of him or suffering a cramp might soldier on if coming out means losing an entire drive, which in turn puts him at greater risk of a more severe injury.
Until there are stronger safeguards against injury-faking, you can expect more back-and-forth like the one between Sarkisian and Shaw.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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While this season has proven to look and feel different from years past in the SEC, one thing that hasn’t changed is that all eyes will be watching when Alabama and LSU tangle on Nov. 9.
LSU will present Nick Saban’s defense with a stiff test, particularly with its prolific offense (yep, sounds weird to me too) led by quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
It was the same trio that enjoyed a strong performance against the Tide last season before ultimately falling 21-17. However, the Tide have three games in between to work out their kinks in the secondary.
What improvements does Alabama’s secondary have to make before the showdown against LSU?
Arkansas' season has been easy enough to follow thus far: Three straight victories over soft, non-conference competition followed by three consecutive losses once the competition got tougher.
Included in the three-game skid are conference losses to Texas A&M and Florida the last two weeks.
South Carolina, meanwhile, may be the most frustrated 4-1 team in the country. The Gamecocks' only loss came at Georgia, but closer-than-expected victories over the likes of Vanderbilt, Central Florida and Kentucky has led to a sense of general unease.
A porous defense and mistake-riddled special teams play are South Carolina's chief concerns heading into a critical three-game SEC road stretch that begins against the Razorbacks.
Arkansas holds a 5-1 edge over the Gamecocks in games played in Fayetteville, Ark.
Who: South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC) at Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC)
When: 12:21 p.m. (ET)
Where: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.
Watch: SEC TV
Series history: Arkansas leads 13-8
The term "Catch of the Year" gets thrown around a lot in college football, and it seems like we have at least a new one every week.
We've just scratched the surface on the potential great catches from this season so far, but here are our picks for the best of 2013 so far.
Cal's Maurice Harris against Portland State
Nebraska's Kenny Bell against Illinois
Colorado's Paul Richardson against Oregon
Alabama's DeAndrew White against Georgia State
LSU's Odell Beckham against Georgia (on a kickoff)
SMU's Jeremy Johnson against Rutgers
More will be added throughout the season, so stay tuned and let us know your favorites in the comments!
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The Texas Longhorns under Mack Brown were once synonymous with elite, tough football teams. Between 2001 and 2009, Coach Brown led the Longhorns to nine consecutive double-digit-win seasons and won three of four BCS bowl games. But somewhere along the road, Texas football lost its edge.
When Texas football was at its best, Brown had feared leaders around him.
Brown is a stereotypical good-cop coach, but every good cop needs a bad cop to balance things out. For a while, Brown's bad cop was former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. At other times, upperclassmen like Roy Miller or Sergio Kindle played that role. The biggest difference between the BCS-bound teams and the post-2009 version of the Longhorns is the absence of any bad cops.
Much to the chagrin of their tough-minded fans, the Longhorns have become the entitled fat cat of college football.
Their 5-7 season in 2010 was the first visible sign of a decline. But after seven coaching-staff changes and spending the last two seasons under the microscope, Brown's high hopes of getting Texas back to the standard he set in 1998 appeared within reach in 2013.
"We have worked really hard over the last two years to put ourselves back in the mix," Brown said at Big 12 media days in July. "I think we're going to make another run. We're getting our depth, we're getting our ability back up, our recruiting is going well. I'm really excited about where we're headed."
After suffering two back-to-back losses early in the season and surviving a too-close-for-comfort 31-30 win over Iowa State, the criticism of Texas football is coming from all different directions, including from former players.
Brian Jones (Texas linebacker, 1989-1990) had this to say about the state of the program, per the Houston Chronicle:
Embarrassed once again. It's mystifying and bewildering that we keep meeting at this intersection of where we're supposed to be a better program, and yet we get embarrassed. It is disheartening to see that it keeps recurring. We've been told and led to believe over the years, especially the last four years, after an overhaul of the staff, that this team would get turned around. They can out-athlete a number of teams. That's what they've done in the past, because there has been a lack of development of these three-, four-, and five-star recruits everyone gets so excited about every February, which is just mind boggling.
It is the media's job to analyze the reasons behind Texas' issues, but it is a completely different scenario when former players start questioning the leadership of their alma mater.
How has this one-time college football powerhouse fallen so far from grace?
Chris Simms (Texas quarterback, 1999-2002) singled out recruiting, per the Austin American-Statesman:
I do think it's gone too far down the tracks. The recruiting has gone down. The first thing I look at as a red flag is you don't see too many people coming out in the NFL draft. That's the thing that jumps out to me.
Since 2002, Texas has continued to put together an average top-10 recruiting class every year, according to Rivals.com, which means the issues at Texas do not necessarily have to do with the talent the Longhorns are recruiting. Rather, the issue is Texas' recent inability to develop talent once the athletes arrive in Austin.
Texas and Oklahoma have historically gone after many of the same recruits, so why are these top recruits not developing at Texas, but are developing at schools like Oklahoma?
One word: complacency.
There are a lot of people to blame for the Longhorns' complacency in recent years, but it starts at the top of the food chain.
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and University of Texas President Bill Powers gave Mack Brown the benefit of the doubt to rebuild Texas football following the Longhorns' 5-7 season in 2010.
Brown hired six new assistant coaches and entered the 2011 season with a brick-by-brick mentality. But after the Longhorns finished the season 8-5 and were handed a 38-point loss by Oklahoma, speculation arose about Brown's future at Texas. To silence the critics, Dodds and Powers extended his contract through 2020. Apparently, mediocrity pays well in Austin.
Following the Longhorns' home loss to Ole Miss, five different Texas players said the loss was due to a "lack of focus" and a "lack of effort." This lack of "focus" and "effort" came seven days after the Longhorns' embarrassing loss to unranked BYU.
If Texas played with a sense of urgency, would the phrase "lack of focus" or "lack of effort" ever leave the players' mouths? Absolutely not.
In a radio interview last October, former Oklahoma defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek was asked if OU players feared Bob Stoops. Dvoracek said:
"We feared all of the coaches. I played there from '01 to '05, and we walked on pins and needles around there. We were scared of our strength staff, scared of our coaching staff, scared of everyone. In the moment, I thought 'Man, this sucks. This is so tough.' But looking back now, I think that's why we were so good."
In his time in Norman, Dvoracek and the Oklahoma Sooners won two Big 12 titles and played in two BCS National Championship Games. But Bob Stoops was not the only Stoops Dvoracek and other players feared:
"You want to talk about the most intense, passionate man in football; that's [defensive coordinator] Mike Stoops. The defense had a level of accountability and a level of everyone must do his job and must do it right. If you don't do it right, [Stoops] will let you know about it so it strikes fear in you. The fear of 'Oh, my gosh. If I don't do this right, this man might kill me.' Obviously not really kill me, but you won't hear the end of it."
Dvoracek's apparent fear of his former coaches at Oklahoma is something that has not been discussed by Texas players, at least not since Muschamp was the Longhorns' defensive coordinator.
Muschamp was the first person to compliment his team for making great plays and the first to ride it when it made mistakes. He even picked up the nickname "Coach Blood" after he violently ripped off his headset and scratched his face during the first game of the Longhorns' 2008 season. In true Muschamp form, he ignored the blood running down his face and kept on coaching the defense.
"We love him to death." Brian Orakpo (Texas linebacker, 2004-2008) said in 2008, per ESPN.com. "He gets on us, but he praises us too. When we make a great play, he's out there chest-bumping us. Muschamp is the guy who carries the torch."
In his three seasons at Texas, the Longhorns defense picked up Muschamp's blue-collar mentality. "We're going to take our lunch pail to work every day and do a good job putting in an honest day's work," Muschamp said in 2008, per TexasSports.com. "That's what we're trying to identify our team with."
When Muschamp left Texas to take the head coaching job at Florida, Texas lost more than a coach; it lost its feared leader and the hard-hat mentality of working hard every day to earn a spot on the roster.
Does Texas have the feared leaders in Austin now?
One could argue offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who has been known to throw his hat at players when they make a mistake in practice, is a feared coach. But the constant struggles of the offensive line could lead some to believe the players may not take Searels' hat-throwing too seriously.
If Mack Brown's assistants are not filling the shoes of the feared leaders, then the bad-cop leadership needs to come from the Texas players.
Between 2004 and 2009, Texas' player leadership was astounding, with Vince Young, Kasey Studdard, Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo, Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, among others, stepping up. But since 2009, the player leadership has apparently dwindled.
Before his senior season in 2012, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro described the differences in Texas his senior year compared to his freshman year in 2009:
People haven't really called anyone out since Sergio [Kindle] and Lamarr [Houston] were doing it. I was scared my freshman year. I had Lamarr and Sergio, "the Predator," and all of these dudes around me. I thought if I didn't make every tackle on kickoffs, they were just going to rip my head off.
I don't think guys have really talked since . You don't want to go overboard because nobody wants a guy that's on a power trip, but you need to say what needs to be said. There have been great leaders but there have not been those type of tough, feared guys in the locker room that everyone respects and nobody dare says anything back to.
When asked if Texas has the tough, feared guys in the locker room this season who could compare to a Houston and Kindle, junior defensive back Quandre Diggs said, "When something does go wrong, I look at myself as one of the guys who can get in somebody's face. We do have a couple of those guys, but Sergio and those type of guys are rare."
The feared leaders were not rare at Texas prior to 2010, so why are they rare now?
Vaccaro pointed to a lack of senior leadership, per NOLA.com:
I think those senior leaders have to get together and get this thing going because [the defense's performance against BYU] was ridiculous. ... I don't blame the coach. I blame the players, honestly. I think the mentality at Texas isn't where it needs to be right now.
On the Longhorn Network's weekly show, All Access, former Texas guard Kasey Studdard (2002-2006) talked to the Longhorns at practice in what appeared to be a desperate attempt by Brown to ignite a fire under his team:
I don't care if you win or lose, but if you're out there beating these other cats down, we'll be happy about that. But if you go out there and play soft football, and get beat, that really hurts us. ... This is football, you're supposed to play this game pissed off. Football is the only sport in America where you can go out there and get in a fight for 60 minutes and not go to jail.
Studdard was a member of the Longhorns' 2005 BCS National Championship team. In the weeks leading up to the national championship, quarterback Vince Young had one of the more infamous quotes from a Texas football player, per Sports Illustrated: "[USC] haven't seen the different guys on our team who are gangster."
An interesting remark to say the least, but it makes you wonder about the players at Texas today. Did Mack Brown veer away from recruiting the "gangster" players? Or has the complacency from the top dogs at Texas trickled down and changed the players' mentality?
People can pin the blame on a multitude of things, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to an inability to demand success.
Coaches can teach their players what and how to do things until they are blue in the face. But if there are no repercussions for poor play from the coaches or from the locker-room enforcers, Texas' nonchalant mentality will continue—at least until significant change is made in the Texas football program.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.
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The news of Jake Ryan going down with an ACL tear this spring was like a shot to the heart for those around the Michigan program, given the fact that Ryan was not only a great player, but the heart and soul of the defense.
It was feared Ryan would be gone for the season, but those that knew Ryan also knew he would work his way back sooner, rather than later.
Most didn't believe Ryan when he told reporters he would play in the 2013 season and was shooting for an October return.
Yet, on Tuesday, during the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference we got confirmation that Ryan was indeed going to be back for the Maize N' Blue this season.
However, expecting Ryan back when Michigan takes on Penn State may be a bit much, despite rumors that he will indeed be on the field.
It sure sounds like Hoke is going to have to be convinced by Ryan and others to let him play, at least this week.
Sitting at 5-0 and getting their best defensive player back soon sure has to be appetizing to Wolverines fans.
But, that wasn't the only headline made during Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference. So, let's dig into some of other interesting things to happen in the teleconference and around the conference on Tuesday.
Quarterbacks Moving to Safety Are All the Rage in the Big Ten
First it was Tanner McEvoy making a cameo appearance three weeks ago and playing more snaps against Ohio State than ever before at the safety spot, now comes the news that Rob Henry, the now-former Purdue quarterback is making the same transition.
According to Darrell Hazell it wasn't even his idea, but rather something that Henry was open to from the very beginning.
I can't remember the last time a quarterback made the transition to safety—running back or wide receiver have been popular spots to switch QB's to, but not manning the backfield of the defense.
However, at Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen sees McEvoy's understanding of the offense as something that has helped him already and is likely to continue doing so going forward.
The two quarterbacks are in vastly different situations though as Henry will be ending his time in West Lafayette after this year and McEvoy will re-enter the quarterback race in Madison this offseason. It appears a small hand injury may have also nudged McEvoy into this position to help his team.
He isn't some novelty act either as he is listed on the Badgers two-deep for their game this week against Northwestern. Could we see the same from Henry? Only time will tell.
Kill Still Not Back With Team, but Players Haven't Lost Focus
Jerry Kill suffered his fifth seizure in his two-plus year tenure as head coach at Minnesota on Saturday and I mentioned that the continuity of his staff has really helped out in this unique and scary situation.
However, Kill hasn't bounced back as quickly this time and is resting comfortably at home during the Gophers bye week so far.
"He's doing good," said defensive coordinator Tracey Claeys. "He's continuing to get the rest he needs and work with the doctors to do the best they can to get the situation under control with his medicine. They still believe they can do that."
In his place as head coach on game day and now throughout this week has been Claeys, who answered what seemed like 99 questions about Kill's health to the one about his actual football team on Tuesday.
The biggest takeaway from it all was how little this whole situation has affected the players, at least according to Claeys.
Claeys also said he has spoken to coach Anderson a few times since Saturday, but football has never been the topic of conversation and that Kill will come back to the program when he and his doctors feel it is best to do so.
It also helped that on Tuesday the University of Minnesota president, Eric Kaler, made a public statement of support for Kill (h/t to ESPN.com):
Where we are right now is hoping for and planning on Jerry getting better and being able to fulfill all of his duties. We're not looking at a Plan B. We're looking at Jerry Kill being our head football coach. He's got a great, great staff. It's really just an unbelievable team, and when he's not able to be there because of a seizure, they have a terrific plan and they execute on that. So that's where we are.
Minnesota as a school, athletics department and coaching staff have had very little problem with this situation, so perhaps the media can also take the opportunity to lay off the "coach should retire" rhetoric?
Ferentz Has Issues With Culture of 7-on-7 Football & Returning Punts?
Seven-on-seven football isn't really a "thing," so to speak, here in the Midwest. It is all the spring and summer rage in other parts of the country, but with weather issues and things of that nature it hasn't become this massive part of the football culture in the Midwest—yet.
In Florida 7-on-7 football has become its own subculture, if you will.
However, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is not a fan of what is going on around the budding talent circuit these days.
In fact, as a parent he wouldn't want his kids involved in 7-on-7, and not because of the competition level, but because of some of the shady things around the sport in places like Florida and California.
As interesting as that all was from Ferentz, it was what happened with the local media that really got me intrigued as to what is going on in Iowa City.
Following the game on Saturday, apparently Ferentz made a reference to not ever returning another punt again—something most took as a joke.
It was in response to the fake punt Michigan State ran on the Hawkeyes, the sixth successful one an opposing team has run since 2010, mind you.
Well, on Tuesday he reiterated his comments from Saturday and apparently wasn't kidding at all (from the Des Moines Register's Andrew Louge):
I think if you pressed me today, I’d say we may never return a punt again. Just because when you do that, to block guys you have to turn and go with those guys to shadow them.
When you do that, you open the door. And Michigan State did a good job of taking advantage of that. We (may) just fair catch it and try to keep it off the ground. I was being dead serious.
and cue Twitter's overreaction in three, two and one....
....yep, that just happened.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained first-hand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Andy on Twitter: @andycoppens.
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The Nebraska football team is ready to hit the road.
In the first road game of the season, the Huskers will travel to West Lafayette, Ind. to face the Purdue Boilermakers. Nebraska enters the matchup at 4-1 on the season, while Purdue is 1-4.
This is only the second time the two programs have ever met. The Boilermakers defeated the Huskers 28-0 in 1958 in West Lafayette. As it currently stands, Purdue is the only Big Ten team Nebraska has never defeated.
The Huskers could change that on Saturday, though.
Will Nebraska take home the victory?
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
When: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. EST
Watch: Big Ten Network and BTN2GO.com
Listen: Husker Sports Network
Betting Line: Nebraska (-14)
After delivering one of the most egregious cheap shots we've ever seen against Iowa State defensive back Deon Broomfield last Thursday, Texas wide receiver Mike Davis issued a public apology for his actions.
Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News tweeted his statement, which can also be seen in video form here:
This is a big about-face for Davis, who, after the game, defended his actions by tweeting that he "plays through the whistle" and isn't dirty:
He took that lack of remorse one step further on Monday. "If we have another run-pass situation, I’d do the same thing," Davis said, according to Chris Hummer of the Dallas Morning News. "If the DB’s loafing, he deserves to get cut."
Those comments were almost worse than the hit itself, which caused a stir for its distance from the play and targeting of the knees. Take a look for yourself:
The Big 12 felt strongly enough to issue a public reprimand of Davis' actions but didn't, as some had hoped, opt to suspend him for any time:
In accord with the Conference’s Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct policy, Mr. Davis’ action was in violation of the rule prohibiting physically abusive acts toward an opponent’s team members during a contest. Given the heightened emphasis on player safety, unnecessary and illegal acts such as this have no place in the game and are unacceptable. Mr. Davis is also put on notice that any future such behavior may result in a more serious penalty, including possible suspension.
Because of the timing of Tuesday's apology, one day after Davis said he'd make the hit again, it's hard to take his sentiment to heart. Something about it rings insincere, especially since it runs in direct contrast to everything else he's said since the play.
But the end of the day—thankfully—Broomfield emerged from the hit uninjured, which means we can start to put this saga in the past. Had he been forced to miss an extended period of time or undergo surgery, the upshots would have been cause for further review.
Instead, we can try to move forward and focus on football.
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Former Auburn coach Pat Dye became the latest to insert himself into the Condi Rice controversy by claiming all the former secretary of state "knows about football is what somebody told her. Or what she read in a book, or what she saw on television. To understand football, you've got to play with your hand in the dirt."
I happen to think the ability to understand a spreadsheet and make sense of it is pretty important, too.
Rice's apparent inclusion on the panel that will decide the College Football Playoff field beginning next season has been derided by many, who invariably trotted out the tripe adage that "you have to have played and/or coached football" to understand football.
If that utter nonsense is true, then someone who hasn't served in the military should not be allowed to run for president, since that person could become the next commander-in-chief. And many of the current baseball front office executives should be immediately fired since they barely played Little League ball, if at all.
The fact that Rice—and others whose names have surfaced—are on the committee is a good thing. It shows the forward-thinking nature of the people (Management Committee) who will be running the College Football Playoff. It's not BCS 2.0, but something better.
Since 2004, when the current formula was adopted to give decisive weight to the voters, the BCS has been nothing more than a beauty pageant dominated by groupthink. The 170-plus voters who took part in the Coaches Poll and Harris Poll typically were easily swayed by the media entities (read: ESPN and CBS) that have certain vested business interests. For example, the 2006, '07 and '11 SEC Championship games all served as infomercials for that conference and each achieved the desired effect.
The new committee is less likely to be under that kind of influence. The individuals on the committee have various backgrounds outside of football or athletics: Pat Haden was a lawyer and broadcaster before becoming USC's athletic director; Oliver Luck, an executive who developed Houston's new sports facilities; Michael Gould, with a distinguished career in the Air Force; Tom Jernstedt, a noted guru who ran the NCAA basketball tournament for 40 years; and a three-term congressman named Tom Osborne.
This committee essentially will be a jury, given certain rules to consider the merits of the case and, at the end, identify the four teams that should be in a playoff at the end of the season. Each member will be provided plenty of data as well as videos throughout the season. Don't think for a second that these people aren't football junkies, least of all Rice.
With all that information in hand, they'll render a considered decision; one that might still be controversial, but should be well-reasoned. They will have their own personal biases, but those should be mitigated with their collectively diverse backgrounds. They will argue fiercely for their points of view, but they also know the finer points of negotiations to reach the best consensus.
Rice's background, actually, is ideal in this—take it from someone who has somewhat of a similar background though nowhere close to her rarefied air. I have a post-graduate education in political science and co-founded the foreign policy news site RealClearWorld as part of my day job. My passion for poll number-crunching is only matched by my passion for football number-crunching. I never ran for office nor played football, though I've covered both as a journalist.
While Bismarck called politics the art of the possible, there's a very scientific element to it as well. The first course in many graduate PoliSci programs is often probability and statistics. Then come logic and game theory, as part of the effort to hone your skills in critical thinking. After that, you get to learn how to deal with irrational bad actors. In some ways, this kind of training is ideally suited for the NFL front office. In fact, baseball had a similar epiphany a decade ago and now teams frequently mine MBAs for general managers.
Football, at the professional level and at some colleges, is moving in that direction as well. A decade ago, there might've been only a QC guy or two breaking down data while fetching coffee at each team. Now, there are roomfuls of people doing just that, and growing. Whether these people have played football is basically irrelevant.
That brings us back to Dr. Rice. It'd be one thing if she's someone who couldn't tell a first down from a checkdown, but that's clearly not the case. This woman is the daughter of a coach who aspired to be the NFL commissioner. She might not have played football, but she knows plenty about evaluating performance, football or otherwise, and that's what she'll do on the committee.
So here we have a football nut who's helped to take down the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein, but eagerly signed up for something several notches below her pay grade to work on this committee. If anything, the only question really should be: Who's a better choice?
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Penn State looks to bounce back from their 44-28 loss to Indiana last week when they host the 19th ranked Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan is coming off of a 42-13 win over Minnesota in the "Battle for the Little Brown Jug."
This will be the first contest between these two since Penn State defeated Michigan in 2010 by a score of 41-31 in front of a Beaver Stadium "White House."
The crowd this weekend will be similar as the Nittany Lions have declared this sold-out contest, the homecoming game, a full stadium whiteout.
Time: 5 p.m. ET
Place: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.
Radio: Penn State Network Affiliates
Spread: Michigan opened as a one point favorite, but the line quickly moved up to -3 Monday before settling at -2.5 on Tuesday, per VegasInsider.com.