HIGHS AND LOWS from October 29th weekend
By Dave Hershorin
NationalChamps.net Managing Editor
 
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November 1, 2005

When Texas has recently played Oklahoma State, why does Texas wait until the second half to show up? Saturday night, the Longhorns overcame a 28-12 halftime deficit with a 35-0 second-half onslaught, reflecting an eerily similar outcome that has now occurred three-straight years. It was 35-7 last year before a 49-0 second half carried Texas to victory, while two years ago it was 16-14 before 41 unanswered points meant the final score was 55-16. The aggregate second half score for these past three tilts is now 118-0. Inversely, this was the first time since last year’s matchup that Texas had allowed a 21-point quarter. This year’s game was highlighted by Vince Young’s 267-239 effort, only the seventh time (and the first time it has ever happened in back-to-back weeks) anyone in I-A has ever both passed and run for over 200 yards in the same game (see Brad Smith from last Saturday). Moreover, no one had ever gone over 250-230, with Smith the only other to hit 230-230. It was the most combined total offensive yards (506) ever in school history, and Young’s 80-yard scramble on the second half’s third play set a school record for longest run by a QB. The 19-point comeback even tied for Texas’ second best comeback ever (overcoming 28 points versus OSU last year remains the record). This game featured six blocked kicks (Rob Killewbrew had two of UT’s four), another reason the Longhorns are 8-0 for the first time since 1983 and have won 24 of their past 25 road games. State has to look inward to find something to salvage after three-consecutive collapses versus this top 5 team, a team they evidently match talent- and performance-wise but cannot play against consistently. The Cowboys have lost their last five straight – all to conference foes - after winning their first three (non-cons Montana State [I-AA], Florida Atlantic, and Arkansas State do not exactly warm you up for the Big XII onslaught, though). And with Tech, Baylor and OU to close, Stillwater likely goes bowl-less for the first time since 2001.

Speaking of big-time second halves that lead to (comeback) victories, we saw quite a few this past weekend. Miami, which was 6-0 last year before UNC took them to task 31-28 in Raleigh, had to overcome a 16-7 first half deficit Saturday with a 27-0 second half to keep its dreams of reaching the first ACC championship game alive (though affected by Wilma within its starting time, it was these Hurricanes that did the most damage). Then-No.17 Texas Tech ran the table 22-0 in the fourth, after barely etching out a 6-0 lead through three versus upstart Baylor. That takes the Red Raiders to their best start since 1976, while Iowa State needed a 28-0 run to secure its 42-14 win over Texas A&M. Friday night on ESPN 2, it was Justin Holland and Colorado State needing a 23-0 second half to erase New Mexico’s 25-12 first half lead down in Albuquerque. Saturday night’s audience on the deuce saw Tennessee lose the latter half 9-3 and the game 16-15 after leading 12-7 against the Gamecocks. When you factor in Marshall’s 20-6 second half tally (in overcoming Tulane’s 20-6 lead), TCU’s 16-7 last 30-minutes for its 23-20 win, and Central Michigan rallying from 14-7 back with a 14-3 second half run to beat Toledo 21-17, you truly see how a few minutes break, along with coaches’ halftime speeches, can really change the flow of a game. Remember, it is never the first set of adjustments that brings your team the win; it is the adjustments your team makes AFTER they see what the other team did in its initial adjustments that matters.

We spoke of the best three-loss teams (then Tennessee at 3-3 and Michigan at 5-3) in last week’s HIGHS and LOWS, noting that, though both are mired in their respective conference’s mundane middles, no smart opposing coach thinks either team to be an easy mark. Enter South Carolina (4-3) and Northwestern (5-2), both who still have much more to gain than lose in their respective outcomes against each. One week later, we find Michigan proved its bounce with a 33-17 win while UT lost another close, low-scoring SEC game. This was the first time since 1959’s 20-7 victory over UM that Northwestern came into their game ranked higher than the Wolverines (they went 4-27 vs. Michigan since then), but this time Henne, Carr & Co. showed why losing this season’s three by a total of 13 points has kept them from falling too far out of the rankings. Tennessee, in not stopping Spurrier’s boys, lost their third in a row and fourth-straight SEC game. It was the first time since 1988 that UT has lost four conference games consecutively in one season. Vol coach Phillip Fulmer is now 2-8 versus Steve Spurrier-led squads, but even more noteworthy is how this win placed Spurrier solely into ninth place for SEC victories (with 127), with appropriately one more than Fulmer (126). The Gamecocks had never won in Knoxville and had lost 12 of the last 13 in this series (only wins were in 1992 and 1903). When Michigan fell out of the AP Top 25 for the September 25th poll, it was their first time unranked since October 18th, 1998, a run of 114 weeks for this school that hasn’t finished unranked at year’s end since1986. The Blue-and-Maize defense ranks 50th now after holding Northwestern’s No.4 offense 100+ yards under their average and to no scoring in the second half for the first time this season. Lloyd Carr is now 37-20 all-time versus ranked opponents and has his team in perfect position to steal the conference crown for Carr’s sixth Big Ten title in 11 years. If they win it this year, it will be for Jon Falk, who, until this past game, hadn’t missed a moment in 384 straight as UM’s equipment manager. Fulmer, meanwhile, still has his Vols falling on the middle rung of the SEC ladder – Tennessee hasn’t had a losing record at this juncture since they were 3-4 in 1994, and hasn’t lost three straight since 1992 (Arkansas, Alabama, and….oh, South Carolina), under Johnny Majors. A good litmus test to compare these two storied programs comes as Tennessee now goes into South Bend to face a 5-2 Notre Dame squad that’s already beat Michigan (9-10-05) 17-10.

Boy, does UCLA like to push its fans to the limits, or what? October has been “cardiac care” month for this unbeaten - four of their five 10th-month wins have come via double-digit comebacks, none more noteworthy than the 21-point deficit overcome Saturday night against Stanford in the Bruin’s 30-27 OT win. It was a 17-point comeback in regulation to force OT against Wazzu (for a 44-41 win), a 19-pointer versus California (47-40), and a 10-point deficit surmounted against Washington (21-17) that has heart-specialists flocking to Los Angeles. The “other” undefeated in Tinsel-town quietly leads the Pac Ten in pass defense as it widdles its way toward the season-ender versus USC, but a run defense ranked 110th won’t make many think that the Bruins have much of a shot against the nation’s No.1 offense (fifth in rushing) and two-time defending national champ. Their only angle is to win via passing – UCLA’s fifth-ranked pass-efficiency offense has to exploit Southern Cal’s 75th-ranked pass defense and then hope for some Trojan mistakes upon which they then MUST capitalize. USC has aggregately won the third quarter 108-21 and the fourth 111-45 while converting 54% of its third-downs (nation’s best) in winning by an average score of 50-21, so the guys in powder blue have their work cut out, to say the least. With Stanford in the Trojan’s sites this week, the Cardinal’s become this conference’s current litmus test. Even for fans of college football who share no allegiance with either of L.A.’s untarnished elite, the December 3rd showdown will hopefully reflect an MI-inducing result that will have heart-specialists everywhere profiting from the results. A VT-UT Rose Bowl/BCS finale? We think not…

Next week’s Boise State-Fresno State WAC matchup, though reflecting a total of three losses between the two, looks like the mid-major shizz we all hoped for. Boise comes in averaging a 41-22 result in their last six (all wins) - they lost their first two to perennial toughies Georgia and Oregon State. Fresno’s scoring averages a 41-17 win in their 6-1 plight, with their only L coming against Oregon, a team that runs a similar offense to the one the Broncos use. In the race for any elusive BCS wildcard birth, the Bulldogs would have the inside lane…it’s just that there can be no blemishes if a smaller school is to guarantee such status, just reference Utah from last year. Competitively speaking, this was a year when many of the best mid-majors lined up against each other, so what are often hypothetical arguments (concerning who is better) are instead results now grounded in reality. Bowling Green and Toledo each fell early to FS and BS, respectively, while TCU made its own proverbial bed with its only loss to a nowhere SMU team right after stunning the college football world by beating OU in Norman. Utah and Wyoming, (like TCU) also possible threats out of the Mountain West, never showed up. One-loss UTEP, somewhat of a surprise out of its new C-USA digs, joins TCU in many top 25s, but the Miners fell to always-tough Memphis and fail to have any BCS-aligned teams on its slate, something all mid-majors must have to make voters actually care. That brings us back to next Thursday night’s (11-10-05) game on the “Smurf Turf”, a game that should feature two honed squads, not like most of those earlier, more-lopsided games. There is no trip to the BCS on the line, but to finish as the top mid-major in the final BCS poll seems like an unofficial crown-of-sorts that any school should wear as a sign of achievement. In today’s college football world, where TV revenues mean a stacked deck against the smaller guys (especially at bowl time and therefore reflected in the weekly voting), we truly show the world what the “American Way” has unfortunately become.

Lagniappe
When Virginia Tech LB Vince Hall returned an INT 13 yards for a score, it was officially the 100th non-offensive TD scored under head man Frank Beamer…The ACC Coastal (division) showdown between Miami and Virginia Tech surely highlights this weeks slate. But did you know that, when Miami played its first game in Blacksburg (11-4-67), Tech only had one INT in its 14-7 loss to the Canes, and that pick was made by a spry underclassman DB named Frank Beamer?...If you think that is coincidental, check this out - Walt Harris, Stanford’s current head coach, was an assistant at University of the Pacific when he signed his first player ever, Peter Carroll, to a letter-of-intent. While Harris was the DB coach there at UOP in ’71 and ’72, the DL coach was a guy named Ted Leland, the current AD at Stanford and the guy who hired Harris there. Leland actually played for the Tigers too, as did Harris, and Leland was a player when Harris was in his first years as a G.A. (graduate assistant). A two-time all-Pacific Coast Conference free safety, Carroll became a G.A. at Pacific the year after both Leland and Harris left. All three have both their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from UOP…Syracuse has not been at 1-7 since 1978…Alabama sophomore SE D.J. Hall set a school record in the Tide’s 35-3 win over the Utah State Aggies – with his 11 snarls, he has now gone two consecutive games with at least 10 (had 10 in 6-3 win over Tennessee prior week)…It was the first time in 40 years that Nebraska played Oklahoma and neither team was ranked…Only three teams in the past 35 years have won as many as 30 in a row, and USC now ranks 11th all-time for consecutive victories…The Trojan’s 24-game home win-streak is a team record, as is their 20-game streak versus Pac Ten foes…Four teams – Penn, Brown, Princeton and Yale - are currently tied for the Ivy League lead with a 3-1 conference mark, but the academically-elite conference has no tie-breakers for determining final placement, not even within head-to-head results. And these are the smarter schools, right?...At 5-2 and still in his initial campaign as a head coach, Charlie Weis just got a new 10-year contract as top guy at Notre Dame. Since Ty Willingham started off 8-0 and didn’t get to fulfill his five-year deal (fired after three), we will have to see just where the school’s integrity gets on and off with Weis in charge…Besides Wisconsin (40.9) and Louisville (41.4), USC allowing foes to convert 40% of their third-down tries ranks worst amongst top 25 teams…Inversely, Wisconsin (50.4%), Louisville (51.3), and Fresno State (53.4) are the only ones to join the Trojans as teams able to convert on over half of their third-down tries. USC leads the nation at 54%...New Mexico State is the only team with two players ranked in the top 20 for total tackles. Unfortunately, senior LB Jimmy Cottrell (13.75 tackles per game) and senior DB Matt Griebel (11.13) play on the Aggies’ 115th-ranked (out of 117 I-A squads) defense…Kansas - allowing a mere 1.99 yards per carry – leads the NCAA in this category, as well as in rushing TDs allowed (1)…Virginia Tech and Alabama follow as both have held all foes to two total ground scores…North Texas, with a backfield featuring the past two national rushing champions, has scored a I-A-low total of seven TDs, while Buffalo (9) joins them as the only teams with under 10 total TDs…In the category of ‘points responsible for’, RB Michael Bush of Louisville is the only non-QB in the top 20 (T-11th with 16.29 per game)…Senior TE Garrett Mills of Tulsa is the only non-WR listed in the top 20 for receptions per game (9th with 7.25), receiving yards per game (19th – 96.75), and total receiving yards (19th – 774)…Alabama senior Freddie Roach, Bowling Green junior Thomas Smith, UCLA senior Spencer Havner and Georgia Tech junior Philip Wheeler – all LBs - are the lone non-DBs listed for passes defended. Talk about single-handedly solving all problems, Smith is the only one from a team where some DB places ahead of him for this stat. The rest lead their respective teams this way…Tech’s Wheeler is the only non-DB listed in the top 20 for INTs…And, finally, senior DE Elvis Dumervil eclipses the rest of the field in the sack department. His total of 19 (18 solo) stands as the lone double-digit tally, and his 20.5 total tackles-for-loss has him leading there, too, and standing alone over 20.