Every Heisman Trophy winner had at least one make-or-break game along his path to college football's biggest award. What distinguishes these elite players is that when the opportunity presented itself, they made the big play.
Likewise, this year's top Heisman candidates will have their chance to prove that they are the most valuable player in college football. Could Johnny Manziel repeat his performance against the Crimson Tide to earn his second Heisman? Or will Tajh Boyd rise to the top after finally beating South Carolina?
These are the must-win games for the top 10 players fighting for the Heisman.
The most important thing to do on defense is rush the quarterback.
LSU has four sacks on the season through two games. Though the sack totals are not through the roof, it does not mean its pass rush has been ineffective.
The pass rush has actually been quite the opposite. It has been magnificent despite many new faces.
The biggest improvement has been the LSU defense's ability to collapse the pocket and get pressure with just four pass rushers. With the talent the Tigers have in the secondary, they become nearly impenetrable through the air.
LSU lost defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery to the draft last season. But the biggest misnomer about the two was their pass rushing ability.
Georgia's Jarvis Jones and South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney finished with more sacks than Mingo and Montgomery combined. As previously stated, sacks do not mean everything. But both underachieved and looked blockable for most of the season.
LSU's Jordan Allen, Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco have done a fantastic job filling in for Mingo, Montgomery and Lavar Edwards at defensive end. Allen, Hunter and Rasco have been swift in getting around offensive tackles and creating pressure.
The defensive tackles have done the same.
Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson have been under immense pressure to produce at a position that carries plenty of history at LSU. They have delivered through two games.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis created the 3-2-6 "Mustang" package to put more speed on the field. This puts six defensive backs on the field at one time on passing downs.
Tyrann Mathieu made most of his plays at LSU in the Mustang formation. It allows defensive backs to get after the quarterback on exotic blitzes, forcing them to attack offensive lineman with great technique.
No better example of this was LSU against Kentucky in 2011. Mathieu and Ron Brooks both sped around their respective offensive tackle to create one of Mathieu's many defensive touchdowns.
This season, Micah Eugene returns as a nickel back in the Mustang package while redshirt freshman Dwayne Thomas has worked in as the dime back. These two are expected to be the playmakers in the formation, much like Mathieu and Brooks.
LSU used the Mustang package well against UAB to create pressure. But Chavis did not need to bring the house to do so because of the improvement of LSU's pass rush.
It is 3rd-and-medium for UAB deep in their own territory. They lineup in shotgun, showing the defense they are going to pass.
Chavis brings in his Mustang package. There are four players highlighted on this play, all of which are getting after the quarterback off the snap.
Across the defensive line, Rasco (JR) is lined up at left defensive end, Johnson (AJ) at nose tackle and Hunter (DH) is the right defensive end. At the bottom of the screen, Eugene (ME) will essentially serve as the fourth pass rusher.
The reason why the Mustang can be a lethal weapon for defenses is not only for the speed, but for its pre-snap confusion for quarterbacks. It is nearly impossible to tell which defenders are blitzing. Notice how close linebackers Lamin Barrow and Kwon Alexander are to the line of scrimmage. They are fast enough to blitz and drop back into coverage effectively.
A pass rusher is at its best when facing an immobile quarterback. UAB's quarterback Austin Brown makes Tom Brady look fast. So this allows the LSU pass rushers more freedom with their rushing lanes.
Off the snap, LSU fires off pretty low as they look to size up their offensive lineman for a pass rushing move. Johnson (AJ) is getting double-teamed.
LSU looks as if it is only rushing four. But in actuality, they bring a delayed blitzer in Kwon Alexander. Barrow eventually drops back into coverage.
UAB's offensive line does a great job. The top priority when facing the Mustang defense is to not let any defender have a free, unblocked rush to the quarterback.
UAB continues to do a great job in picking up assignments, especially after the delayed blitz for Alexander. But unfortunately for the Blazers, LSU's athletes whip them in execution.
Eugene (ME) is being blocked by a tight end, who has no chance. Eugene does an exceptional job of dipping his shoulder to get around the corner. He does not allow the tight end to extend his arms and knock him off his path.
Rasco (JR) tries to do the same at the top of the screen. He begins to get around the corner until he eventually loses his footing.
Before, it looked as if Johnson (AJ) would get nowhere as he is being double-teamed. One of Johnson's biggest weaknesses in the past was his inability to shed blocks, particularly against the pass.
Johnson performs the most unstoppable pass rushing move for defensive tackles, which is a "swim." JJ Watt of the Houston Texans does this more effectively than anybody else. Johnson begins his swim motion as his right arm begins a sweeping motion.
Hunter (DH), normally a defensive end, is in a great spot. Because Eugene is rushing outside of him, he no longer has contain responsibilities. This allows him freedom to go inside of his blocker. He does a great job of squaring up his blocker, knowing his quickness will allow him to get around him.
Hunter now begins his swim move to the inside. His blocker's arms are full extended, so all Hunter has to do is swat his arms away and go inside of him.
Johnson is completing his swim move and begins his move around the guard. "The Freak" shows a tremendous desire and creativity to shift around a double-team.
The offensive lineman blocking Hunter and Johnson are in similar positions. Their arms are fully extended, which is fine. But because of the "swim," all their blockers could do is commit a holding penalty and yank them down.
Eugene remains the critical component of the play. He has burned the tight end. Brown hears footsteps and begins to panic.
Brown begins to throw the football just to get rid of it. Eugene and Johnson get excited they are about to get a great shot on a quarterback after an excellent rush.
Johnson does a great job to hit the quarterback cleanly. He swallows him with his long arms.
If Brown had held the ball for a second longer, Eugene could have possibly had a clean strip. If Brown was able to miraculously evade Johnson and Eugene, Hunter would have been there for a massive blow.
This LSU stop was critical. It allowed Odell Beckham Jr. to return a punt deep into UAB territory on the next play, which eventually resulted in an easy touchdown for the Tigers offense.
The stop was reminiscent of two plays in the past two seasons at LSU.
The before-mentioned Mathieu strip against Kentucky in 2011 was created by Mathieu's and Brooks' ability to get around the corner. But the play also featured a great rush up the middle. This play against UAB had similar components.
Former LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan used a swim move to get around a Florida offensive guard to force a critical strip-sack of Jeff Driskel last season. The Tigers were able to score right before the half because of it. Johnson or Ferguson could possibly do the same later this year.
Much credit must be given to defensive line coach Brick Haley. Haley has done a magnificent job getting new contributors ready for play quickly.
There is room for improvement. Sacks will come if LSU does a better of job of getting rid of blocks quicker. Also, pass rushing changes when facing a mobile quarterback. Kent State's Colin Reardon has 96 yards rushing in two games.
Being able to rush the passer without bringing exotic blitzes allows Chavis to be diverse defensively. This will be critical going forward.
The SEC has never been so loaded at quarterback during the Chavis tenure. LSU still has to play AJ McCarron, Johnny Manziel and Aaron Murray. If they are to win, they will need to rush quarterbacks effectively.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—On the surface, AJ McCarron and Johnny Manziel seem like polar opposites at quarterback.
On one hand, there’s Manziel—the headline-grabbing star quarterback for the flashy Texas A&M team that went pound-for-pound with the best in the SEC last year. He came under intense scrutiny in the offseason, when he rubbed elbows with Drake and Lebron James, threw out a first pitch at a baseball game and was caught on camera with a different woman on his arm seemingly every night.
The pressure only ramped up when he was dismissed from the Manning Passing Academy and investigated by the NCAA for selling autographs.
Then, there’s McCarron—the quarterback for the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide, who seeks the spotlight less often than he takes off running, which is to say, not often. He’s often labeled as a “game manager” and plays for a team with old school philosophy and a stern disciplinarian as head coach.
Brent Musburger even made his girlfriend more famous than him with a couple of questionable one-liners during the national championship broadcast last year.
In some instances, they’re described almost as character foils—one a shining example of how a quarterback should handle himself, the other an extremely talented punk kid who is always on the verge of throwing it all away. McCarron is the cold, calculating Walter White to Manziel’s reckless, renegade Jesse Pinkman.
Their styles of play are drastically different and are amazingly reflective of their personalities. Manziel the erstwhile desperado, a daring gunslinger with a tendency to live by the seat of his pants and McCarron the cool, calm and commanding leader of men.
Their divergent personalities make McCarron and Manziel unlikely friends, but their shared experience performing in the spotlight of the SEC creates a rare bond few others can understand.
“It’s very easy to sit on the outside and talk about Johnny and his family and the way he’s handling things,” said Dee Dee Bonner, McCarron’s mother. “But if you’re not in this goat rodeo as I like to call it, if you’re not in this, you really don’t have an understanding of what goes on. There’s so much pressure on these players, they don’t have a normal life.”
McCarron and Manziel first crossed paths on the field last November in the game that announced Johnny Football to the world. They’ve stayed friends since that game, keeping in touch throughout the offseason and even planning a vacation together, though Bonner notes that never came to fruition due to conflicting schedules.
Their friendship has been dissected and discussed, but McCarron, ever the public relations pro, has tried been careful to keep things in perspective, especially as the game approaches.
“We're just friends, guys,” he said this week. “Y'all make this thing a lot bigger than it needs to be.”
Never was the pair’s relationship more scrutinized than in mid-July when Manziel was was dismissed from the Manning Passing Academy and reports surfaced that he was rooming with McCarron who failed to wake him up for staff meetings.
The he-said-she-said became the story the next week at SEC Media Days, as both quarterbacks were peppered with questions about the events of that morning and the previous night.
McCarron stayed on script when fielding questions, instead choosing to let Manziel answer them himself.
"I can't answer on Johnny Manziel's part," McCarron said at media days. "My name is AJ. Everything that has to do with him, he's his own man. I'm not going to speak on another man's business. That's how I was raised. If it don't have nothing to do with you, don't speak on it.”
Bonner said McCarron has always handled himself that way, ever since he was a kid. She compares his approach to the world to that of his coach, Nick Saban.
“[AJ] took sports seriously even when he was little,” she said. “He would get upset when kids on the tee-ball field were digging the dirt or picking the flowers or something. He was all about paying attention and that’s the way he takes it. Becoming more like Coach Saban has only helped him in that regard.”
Bonner isn’t the first, nor will she be the last to make the McCarron-Saban comparison. McCarron might not be the best quarterback in the country, but he is the best quarterback for Saban’s system, which has been proven to be the best in the country.
On third down, McCarron has no problem throwing the ball away if no one is open, cutting his losses and letting his defense get him the ball back. He rarely forces a throw or tries to make a play when it’s not there. Conversely, most of Johnny Football’s highlight reel efforts are born from broken plays.
McCarron’s tendency to avoid the spotlight, in good times and bad, is likely a product Saban’s strict system and personal preference.
“I've never been one to be in the spotlight,” McCarron said. “Everybody lives their lifestyle different. People criticize him for being himself. Everybody's got their opinion on something.”
Manziel’s antics get to people because of the perception it gives off. In Week One, when he made money signs and faked signing autographs, it came across like he wasn’t taking the NCAA investigation seriously.
The public has an idea in its head about how a quarterback should act on the field—always focused, calm, collected, and “classy,” whatever that means.
Manziel, however, doesn’t exactly give off those vibes. He isn’t afraid to express what he feels, in words or otherwise. When Manziel rips open the Superman cape after a score, or talks back to a Rice defender who is taunting him, it upsets people.
It could be because Manziel doesn’t fit the mold of a “traditional” quarterback, or it could just be flat out jealousy. At 20, Manziel is living the life many would dream of—superstar quarterback of a national championship contender with enough (legal) money to do just about whatever he pleases.
“He is only a 20-year-old young man,” Bonner said. “And people say they don’t like him, but how can you not respect him as an athlete? He’s just a phenom. No matter what people say at the end of the day, I think he’s going to come out fine.”
Manziel’s greatest strength very well may be that he is not weighed down with a need to please anyone.
“He isn’t worried about what the people outside of the building think, he’s worried what the people that he dresses with on the inside of the building think,” said Mark Smith, Manziel’s high school coach. “The bottom line is: Johnny is who he is and that’s who he’s going to be.”
Manziel himself echoed that statement at SEC media days.
"I'm not gonna shy away from that," Manziel said. "I'm not gonna change because I'm in the spotlight. I told people the night of the Heisman, no matter what happens, I'm going to adapt but I'm not going to change. I'm still the same person that I was."
For the time being that person is being kept out of the spotlight he so relishes. Manziel hasn’t made many public appearances since the autograph scandal at the advice of his lawyers and family. And, according to George Schroeder of USA Today, he won’t be doing any interviews at all this week.
The decision to stay quiet is rare, but not unprecedented. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray decided not to do interviews before the SEC Championship Game last December. Murray’s reasoning was that he wanted to focus on the game and tune out any possible distraction.
For Manziel, his family and his lawyers don’t want him to become the distraction.
He acts like he plays—with a reckless abandonment that could either blow up in his face, or add to the legend of Johnny Football.
Most of the time, it’s the latter.
“The intensity and emotion that he plays with is part of his game,” Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Our job and his job is to channel that type of emotion into a positive way of doing things. For the most part he does that.
“That's what separates him from a lot of people is how he plays the game and the emotion and intensity he plays the game particularly at that position which you don’t see a lot.”
McCarron and Manziel will take the field Saturday to a mixture of opinions on their lives both on and off the field.
One will win, one will lose, but the beat will only go on for one of the most lambasted friendships in all of college football.
“You go on any blog, forum and see the people but not only talk bad about AJ, but talk bad about Johnny,” Bonner said. “These kids are criticized by people that don’t even know them, they don’t know them on a personal level.”
All quotes were obtained firsthand. Quotes from Kevin Sumlin and Mark Smith were obtained from A&M lead writer James Sullivan.
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The Texas Longhorns are most talented on offense, there is no way around it.
When the points are coming in, the Longhorns are more comfortable considering they fielded a defense that did not deliver the goods at all against BYU.
With the offensively balanced and potent Ole Miss Rebels coming to town this weekend, the Longhorns will need all hands on deck on offense to pad the scoreboard and prepare for a shootout.
Texas posted 66 points on the Rebels last season in Oxford, Miss., but this is a vastly different game with even more different circumstances.
Quarterback David Ash is still questionable, meaning the offense could have a whole other feel to its flow come Saturday.
Regardless of who takes every snap, there are certain players who need to have big games to help get the ball rolling in the right direction again.
What a wacky game in which Texas Tech came out victorious 20-10 over TCU. It included just about anything and everything you can hope to witness in a college football matchup. Even a few things you would have never imagined were included in this bizarre Thursday night contest.
In all seriousness, there was plenty to take away from this fairly competitive Big 12 game. TCU learned it still has plenty of work to do if it is going to compete for a conference title, while the Red Raiders quickly reminded folks not to write them off just yet.
Before going any further, the answer is yes. And then some.
There's weird. There's Lubbock weird. And then there's what happened Thursday night in Texas Tech's 20-10 over TCU. This was supposed to be a critical early-season game for the Horned Frogs and Red Raiders. Instead, officiating ended up becoming the biggest story of the night.
Yes, even bigger than OMG FOX ON THE FIELD.
The Horned Frogs played poorly, especially on offense. Gary Patterson's team, usually lauded for its discipline, had 13 penalties for 115 yards. Over half of those were false starts. Big plays, however few and far between, were called back for holding.
Trevone Boykin, who played so well last year and had been the more effective of TCU's two quarterbacks this season, lacked confidence early and struggled.
Even a sidelined Casey Pachall couldn't get out of the way of the dumpster fire.
Yeah, that kind of night.
Patterson didn't have much of a voice at halftime when ESPN's Samantha Ponder interviewed him going into the locker room. He probably won't have one at all when the night is all said and done.
And TCU deserves to be ripped into by their coach for the way they played. Heck, Patterson deserves some criticism of his own.
But the group that deserves as much flak as any was the one sporting black and white.
Let's start in the fourth quarter, when TCU wide receiver Brandon Carter was fielding a punt when he waved both of his arms. That's when things really got bizarre.
Carter caught the ball and ran it back for a touchdown that would have tied the game.
Instead, the officials called the punt back for an invalid fair catch. The reasoning was that, by waving his arms, Carter was intending to deceive the kicking team before running with the ball. And, in fact, one of Carter's arms is raised above his head.
You can be the judge as to whether that was what Carter was doing.
The Horned Frogs weren't the only team with a close call. On a would-be touchdown pass from Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb, running back DeAndre Washington pulled a DeSean Jackson and let go of the football right before he crossed the goal line. The ball was initially spotted at the half-yard line before an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty pushed it back 15 yards.
Either way, Texas Tech maintained possession. And Patterson was perplexed.
Then, there was the 15-yard penalty for kick interference assessed against TCU late in the fourth quarter. Except there was no interference. One play later, Red Raiders running back Kenny Williams fumbled the ball and TCU recovered—except the referees blew the play dead early and Texas Tech maintained possession.
Tech then ran another play and TCU called a timeout, at which time the referees reviewed the fumble despite not being able to change the call. Ultimately, officials ruled the fumble was not a fumble. Even though it was a fumble.
Confused? So was everyone else.
Whether TCU deserved to win or not is irrelevant. It's the officials' job to get the call right. In many crucial moments Thursday night, they did not.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.
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College football's 2013 season is going to be full of planned sets of new uniforms, and new combos are going to come out every week. If you want to know what to look for, here's the place to find it.
Heading into Week 3, there are a few notable things to watch for, including a change on both sides of the ball in a heavyweight match to end the week.
Here are the announced changes for this weekend, presented in the order they will appear.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff may be a freshman, but he's not playing like one.
Through two weeks of action, the first-year signal-caller out of Greenbrae, Calif., leads the NCAA in passing yards by a wide margin. Goff is orchestrating an offense that runs more plays per game (97) than any other team in the country and Cal currently ranks No. 9 with 582.5 yards of offense per game.
This Saturday, Goff and the Golden Bears offense will test Ohio State's young defense.
The Buckeyes will make the cross-country trip to Berkeley, Calif., with a defense that replaced seven starters from last year's undefeated team.
The Buckeyes do, however, return two starting safeties in C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant in addition to one of the country's best cornerbacks in Bradley Roby.
That experience in the secondary will be huge for a young and talented front seven.
The Buckeyes registered three sacks and two quarterback hurries against San Diego State last Saturday. According to Rusty Miller of the Associated Press, Ohio State's defense is up to the challenge of playing the country's top passer.
"A true freshman can be really athletic and all that," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "But it's easier to get flustered and to get a little nervous — especially when you see a defensive line closing in."
Defensive back Armani Reeves expanded on Bennett's comments.
"Just get him second-guessing and when you do things like that, especially when it's a freshman or a new starter, it's going to cause him some problems, no matter what," Reeves said.
Although Goff has shown incredible maturity running Sonny Dykes' uptempo, pass-heavy offense, he threw three interceptions in Cal's season-opening loss to Northwestern. Two of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns in the second half, proving to be the difference in a 14-point loss.
"We definitely played well for most of the game, the ending there was a little disappointing," Goff told Josh Dubow of the AP (h/t timesunion.com). "We have a lot to build on now with how well we played."
Goff and the offense did build on that performance, as the former 4-star prospect completed 33 of 51 passes for 485 yards and two touchdowns to no interceptions in a 37-30 victory over Portland State last Saturday.
There's a big difference between Portland State and Ohio State's defense, though.
On the flip side, there's a big difference between the quarterbacks Ohio State has played and the one it'll see this Saturday.
Both sides will be facing their toughest tests of the young season.
Recruit rankings courtesy of 247Sports.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Brady Hoke's success in the Big Ten is just the beginning.
Now in his third season as head coach at Michigan, Hoke's track record of holding his own against conference opposition—his 12-4 B1G record—speaks to his commitment to restoring hard-nosed Wolverines football. Team 134 certainly embodies that brand of play.
Cruising through the first two weeks of the fall, No. 11 Michigan has a pair of non-conference battles with Akron and UConn before engaging Minnesota on Oct. 5 at The Big House. After the Gophers, Penn State and Indiana blockade Hoke's path to Mark Dantonio's Michigan State Spartans, who have won four of the past five series meetings.
It's not the most challenging of conference slates, but it's certainly no cakewalk, either. Dates in November with Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State represent the "meat" of 2013. That collection of in-conference opposition should serve as the tell-all for Michigan.
The Oregon defense has been everything fans expected it to be through two games of the 2013 college football season.
While the group has given up a few more yards than it probably should have, the end result has been just 6.5 points per game given up on the scoreboard, good enough for seventh in the country.
Ah, but let's not get too far ahead ourselves with rankings, lest we forget that the mighty offenses of Nicholls and Virginia have been the only tests thus far. But while Oregon may not face a great offense until it heads north to Seattle in mid-October, the Tennessee Volunteers certainly figure to bring a bigger challenge than anything the defense has seen in the first couple of weeks.
The game is at home, and the Ducks should be able to feed off of a frenzied environment filled with screaming fans who want nothing more than to send an SEC team packing in humiliating defeat.
Will the the defense continue to impress on the scoreboard? Can it handle a physical SEC team with NFL-caliber athletes?
Here are the five things the Ducks' defense must prove against Tennessee on Saturday.
Nebraska football fans know that the Cornhuskers under offensive coordinator Tim Beck have grown into a formidable offense. But regardless of the arsenal of weapons at Beck’s disposal, Nebraska’s offense is still going to go only as far as quarterback Taylor Martinez takes it.
Martinez, who looks on track to hold every major offensive record in Nebraska history at the conclusion of his career, has the skill set to punish defenses both on the ground and in the air. But Martinez has also shown that a solid defensive performance can turn him into a non-factor—or worse—for Nebraska.
So which defenses on Nebraska’s schedule will give Martinez the most trouble this season?
No. 3: Northwestern
Yes, Northwestern. Hear me out. In two games, the Wildcats have gone 2-0, notching wins on the road against Cal and at home against Syracuse.
The top-line numbers aren’t eye-popping. Northwestern allowed 30 points against a pretty poor Cal squad and 27 at home to an improving, but still below-average Syracuse team. In two games, the Purple are allowing 491 yards per game, worst in the Big Ten.
So why would Northwestern be one of the teams that would give Taylor Martinez the most trouble?
In two games, the Wildcats lead the B1G in total turnovers, notching seven interceptions in their two contests. History tells us that the Nebraska-Northwestern games have been fourth-quarter affairs, coming down to plays that need to be made as the game winds down.
And a lot of that was due to turnovers. Northwestern led the B1G in turnover margin in 2012, averaging plus-1.08 turnovers per game. This season, they are on track to nearly double that number, averaging plus-2.00 in 2013. And those turnovers, combined with Martinez’s propensity to give the ball away, could lead to trouble.
No. 2: Penn State
It’s no surprise that Linebacker U has been solid on defense throughout Bill O'Brien's tenure. Last year, Penn State was No. 4 in the B1G in total defense, and in 2013, the Lions are up to No. 3 in that list.
The Nittany Lions are also No. 3 in the conference in sacks, with eight through two games this season, and they led the B1G in sacks last season.
Couple that with Nebraska going to a hostile environment in Beaver Stadium and coming off a tough stretch of three straight games against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State, and Martinez could find Penn State's defense a tough nut to crack.
No. 1: Michigan State
Make no mistake, Sparty is going to live and die with defense in 2013. And the Michigan State defense might well be the best in the B1G.
The Spartans are No. 1 in the B1G this season in sacks (eight), No. 2 in total defense (179.5 yards per game), No. 2 in scoring defense (9.5 points per game), No. 1 in rushing defense (50 yards per game), No. 3 in passing defense (129.5 yards per game) and No. 2 in total turnovers caused (two fumbles gained, four interceptions).
So Michigan State's defense looks set to give Taylor Martinez fits when Sparty arrives in Lincoln. Thankfully for Nebraska fans, Michigan State's offense looks soft enough where NU might not need much from Martinez to win the game.
All stats from cfbstats.com unless otherwise indicated.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge
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SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Three things can happen when Notre Dame plays Purdue Saturday night in West Lafayette, Ind.
One, the Irish can blow the Boilermakers out, and the general perception will be indifference; it was what Notre Dame was supposed to do.
Two, the Irish can win a close game, and people will wonder why ND didn't beat the Boilers by more.
Or three, the Boilermakers can upset the Irish, and people will really wonder what's wrong.
Sure, the dyed-in-the-wool Irish fan will take a big ND win and think that everything is right in the world. But in reality, because of what happened last week, and last year, there are questions.
Brian Kelly has been quick to point to the offense as a big contributing factor in the 41-30 loss to Michigan, and he's right. Points were left on the field.
But the bigger contributing factor was the shortcomings of the defense, which had a lot of parts back from last year but still allowed 41 points last weekend.
Granted, the offense contributed to the Michigan total when a Tommy Rees interception led to a Michigan touchdown, but—and this is one of those questions that goes simply on feel—does anyone think that last year's defense would have stiffened and bailed out the offense?
Notre Dame enters Saturday night's nationally televised game a three-touchdown favorite (per Bovada), and there's a reason.
Brian Kelly's team has more talent, and it is in the fourth year of a system. Purdue, on the other hand, enters with an identical record (1-1) as Notre Dame, but the loss was a shellacking at the hands of Cincinnati and the win an underwhelming victory over Indiana State at home. The Boilermakers are also in the infant stages of first-year coach Darrell Hazell's system, and there are questions at quarterback.
That's what makes Saturday's winnable game a no-win. Even without their best performance, Notre Dame should be able to handily beat the Boilermakers.
This is about winning a game, and making progress.
Does quarterback Tommy Rees play mistake-free? Does star defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who did not register a tackle against Michigan, dominate like he's capable of doing? Does one of the backs—Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel or one of the freshmen—make Kelly's decision for him and force the coach to give him 20 carries?
A win will be a nice recovery for Notre Dame, but it's the potential wins within the win, the types of victories in which the Irish are measured against themselves, that will help determine if this team is BCS-worthy or not.
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So much of playing successful defense against the Oregon Ducks is predicated on getting everybody lined up properly, making checks and having players in the right position to make plays in space.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones is thankful to have veteran safety Brian Randolph assuming many of those duties on the back end as the Vols storm into Autzen Stadium this Saturday.
It's extremely valuable. You know, we talk about being smart football players and football intelligence, and Brian is extremely smart. And, so, that's obviously going to help him, and we're going to need that all day Saturday.
When Randolph plays, the Vols are simply better. Junior All-SEC linebacker A.J. Johnson gets most of the publicity, but Randolph is Tennessee's defensive MVP.
Since coming to Knoxville, Randolph has started 13 games. According to the official statistics on UTSports.com, the Vols have allowed an average of 19.6 points and 344 yards during those starts. In the 12 games he didn't start, UT allowed an average of 34.4 points and 452.7 yards per game.
Said UT senior linebacker Dontavis Sapp:
Brian Randolph's a great player. He knows the defense in and out; smart guy. He's always making the right calls and communicating well with the linebackers, so it's great to have him back.
The redshirt sophomore from Marietta, Ga., is coming off his best game as a Vol in last week's 52-20 throttling of Western Kentucky. He corralled two interceptions in the end zone to turn away scoring drives, a performance that earned him the SEC Defensive Player of the Week, according to the SEC's official site.
That honor emphatically announced Randolph's full-circle return from a devastating knee injury suffered in the third game of 2012.
During Florida's frenetic comeback victory over UT last September, Frankie Hammond caught a pass and got behind the Vols defense. The only player standing between the receiver and end zone was Randolph, who planted his foot, corkscrewed his knee, missed the tackle and was left writhing in pain.
In this case, that touchdown added injury to insult. Randolph—who, according to this Associated Press story on ESPN, was UT's leading tackler at the time with 22 stops—tore his anterior cruciate ligament, and UT had to replace its leading tackler and best leader.
They couldn't. The Vols endured the worst defensive season in school history without him.
Though there were several factors that contributed to Sal Sunseri's nightmarish season as UT's defensive coordinator, Randolph's loss was major. The Vols had no custodian on the back end—a player who could clean up busted coverage. Plays that should have gone for 15 yards went for 60.
With the Ducks up next, minimizing big plays is going to be a major point of emphasis. When there inevitably is a missed assignment and a big gain, somebody has to calm the team.
Having a simplified 4-3 scheme helps, but so does deploying a steady player like Randolph, who said slowing down Oregon starts with getting everybody on the same defensive page.
We've just got to talk, communicate to everybody. If we see somebody get wide-eyed out there, we've just got to bring them back down to Earth. Don't let things get bigger than they are.
Randolph is a calming, coaching presence out there. He has started since his freshman season, when he finished as a freshman All-SEC performer with 55 tackles, according to his UT bio. Having him on the field makes a major difference.
"He's a playmaker and a great leader for us," junior cornerback Justin Coleman said. "With him out there, he can control the defense and help us get Ws."
Beating Oregon is an awfully tall task, but the Vols have proven the chances improve greatly when Randolph is on the field.
All quotes were transcribed from videos posted on UTSports.com, unless otherwise noted.
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The biggest game this weekend is undoubtedly Alabama vs. Texas A&M. College Station will be rocking all weekend, as this has been an anticipated matchup since the minute the horn sounded at the end of the Aggies' defeat of the Crimson Tide last season.
Both SEC programs are among the best in the country, and they are enjoying a great 2014 recruiting cycle.
With the pair of juggernauts getting ready to meet on the field, it is time they square off in a recruiting class battle.
En route to a 40-21 victory over No. 15-ranked Texas, Taysom Hill made the Longhorn rushing defense look like Hawaii.
Scratch that, Hill ran for only 141 yards against the Warriors last year.
His 259 rushing yards were close to breaking a single-game rushing record for BYU, and were the most by a Cougar quarterback since 1962. But how does Hill's game rank against other great performances at BYU?
Here are the top four rushing games by Cougar athletes, and how they compare to last week's showcase.
Back in the dog days of summer when we were craving football in any form, I made a case for Saturday night's trip to Purdue University as the biggest trap game on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish schedule.
My reasoning was, or so I thought at the time, sound.
The game fell right in the middle of key games with Michigan and Michigan State. It was the second of back-to-back road games, and the Irish needed a last-second field goal to survive the Boilermakers last season in South Bend.
Add to that the fact that Purdue is led by first-year head coach Darrell Hazell, limiting scouting and film study to just two games, and I figured you would have all the makings of a 60-minute struggle between two teams that have played every year since 1946.
Purdue always seemed on the brink of breaking through under Danny Hope, including last year when the Boilermakers nearly upset a Notre Dame team that finished the regular season 12-0 and took an Ohio State team that also finished 12-0 to overtime.
Hope just far too often seemed out of his league, incapable of getting the Boilermakers over the hump. Enter Hazell, who coached in two BCS National Championship Games as an assistant at Ohio State, and it seemed that Purdue could take that elusive step forward.
I was wrong.
While I still believe Hazell can make Purdue competitive again, especially with the program moving to the new Big Ten West Division next year, the 2013 Boilermakers could make Hope's teams look like the 2000 Joe Tiller- and Drew Brees-led team that went to the Rose Bowl.
Translation: It's going to get ugly Saturday night in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Brian Kelly has lost back-to-back regular-season games four times since arriving in South Bend. Two were fluky losses (a fake field goal in overtime by Michigan State in 2010 and a 17-point comeback by Michigan in 2011), one came after the Irish lost their starting quarterback during the game (Tulsa in 2010), and one came at the hands of Andrew Luck, one of the best college quarterbacks the Irish have ever faced.
Outside of an injury to Tommy Rees, none of those circumstances are in danger of reoccurring Saturday in West Lafayette. Purdue has managed just 27 points through two games. Its 42-7 loss to Cincinnati in the season opener looks even worse after the Bearcats were blasted 45-17 last week by the Boilermakers' division rival, Illinois.
Last week against Indiana State, which had allowed 73 points to Indiana nine days earlier, Purdue managed just 284 yards of offense, getting out-gained by the Sycamores in a narrow 20-14 win. Now the Boilermakers must deal with an angry Fighting Irish defense looking to take out its frustrations from a poor performance in a 41-30 loss at Michigan last Saturday.
Purdue has some familiar faces to Irish fans, including defensive tackle Bruce Gaston and cornerback Ricardo Allen, but Allen has been bothered by a sprained ankle.
All-purpose back Akeem Hunt has drawn comparisons to Kent State's Dri Archer, a preseason All-American who Hazell utilized in a variety of ways during his stint in charge of the Golden Flashes. Senior tight end Gabe Holmes is expected to miss the game with a wrist injury.
Other than those few names, Purdue offers few concerns for Notre Dame. The Boilermakers have looked like a team still playing with the inconsistency that marred the Hope era, while struggling to grasp the intricacies of Hazell's offense and well-respected coordinator Greg Hudson's defense.
While I'm now struggling to find which game could turn into a trap for Notre Dame this season, there is one thing of which I'm certain. It's not going to happen Saturday night.
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The ongoing West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback battle just became a little more interesting. On Thursday evening, head coach Dana Holgorsen announced that redshirt freshman Ford Childress would be the starting quarterback against the Georgia State Panthers.
Allan Taylor of WV MetroNews tweeted the announcement and a brief explanation from the WVU head coach:
The news comes as a major surprise, considering just one week ago Childress sat at No. 3 on the depth chart and was considered to be the odd man out of the quarterback battle.
Starter Paul Millard and second-string signal-caller Clint Trickett, who are both juniors, were listed as co-starters with an "or" between them on the depth chart.
Just after West Virginia's 16-7 loss to Oklahoma, the Mountaineers reopened the position battle, listing Millard, Trickett and Childress all as possible starters.
The fight for the starting job in Morgantown has been in constant evolution since the departure of Geno Smith, who graduated last year as the school's all-time leading passer and is now the starting quarterback of the New York Jets.
The battle began in the spring with Millard and Childress duking it out, though neither gained separation over spring practice. Additionally, neither put together a particularly impressive performance during the spring game.
Then, shortly after the conclusion of spring practice, Trickett joined the fray as a graduate transfer from Florida State. Since Trickett had already graduated from FSU, he was eligible immediately and had two years to play in Morgantown.
The trio competed throughout the summer and fall, and it appeared as though Trickett was ahead near the end of fall camp.
However, when the season began, the most experienced of the bunch, Millard, was tabbed as the starter.
Millard and Trickett both appeared in WVU's 24-17 season-opening win over William & Mary, though neither was able to generate significant offensive production.
The following week on the road against Oklahoma, Millard carried on as the starter but made some significant mistakes throughout, including burning timeouts early in the third quarter, missing open receivers and then calling a timeout late in the fourth quarter when WVU had none left.
Millard's errors led to the reopening of the quarterback battle. The selection of Childress further muddles an already perplexing situation; however, it is possible that the reopening of the competition at the beginning of the week gave a newfound boost of confidence to the young Childress.
At 6'5", 234 pounds, the Houston native is by far the biggest of the bunch under center.
Childress joined the Mountaineers in 2012 as a 247Sports composite 4-star out of The Kinkaid School in Houston. According to 247Sports, he chose WVU over Arizona, Arizona State and Florida State.
Long thought to be the future of the program at the quarterback position, Childress now has the opportunity to take over the starting role for good in Morgantown.
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