College football overtime (cont.)
"[Clausen] has taken it to a whole different level about moving in the pocket and moving from the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield," said coach Charlie Weis. "He'll run it when he needs to, but his eyes are downfield, he remembers where the receivers are, and that gives him an opportunity to make a play.
Clausen now leads the nation in pass efficiency, completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 1,544 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. However, it's been hard to take the Irish too seriously what with their weekly habit of needing a furious last-second rally to fend off an inferior foe. AP voters clearly have little respect for Notre Dame's competition; the 4-1 Irish received just nine poll votes this week.
Nonetheless, it's hard to find fault with Clausen, who is posting all those big numbers despite getting almost no help. He lost his most dangerous receiver, Michael Floyd, early in the Michigan State game. Running back Armando Allen has been hobbled by an ankle injury, contributing to the Irish's red-zone woes (settling for four field goals from inside the 20) against Washington. And with the notable exception of those three goal-line stands Saturday, the Irish defense has been porous.
But gone are the days when a Notre Dame player could win the Heisman without beating anyone of merit, which is why Clausen's next game (the Irish have a bye this week) will serve as his defining opportunity. Thus far the Irish have offered little sign they can play with a team that's throttled them seven of the past eight years. The Trojans' defense suffocated Cal on Saturday and is sitting in their customary spot among the nation's top-five teams in total defense (238.6 yards per game).
"We don't have to underestimate that we have a top opponent on deck," said Weis. "But the way this quarterback is playing and the way he's acting and the way he's leading the team, the confidence the team has in him, you've got a chance to win every time you play."
The one time this rivalry was competitive any time recently was 2005, the famous "Bush Push" game. Even in defeat, Brady Quinn emerged from that game as a Heisman contender (he finished fourth). Clausen will need to do something similar -- but he's going to need a whole lot more help than he's currently getting.
My reaction to the latest AP and coaches polls.
Overrated: Iowa (AP: No. 12. Coaches: No. 14)
The Hawkeyes moved up one spot in the AP poll and three spots in the coaches poll despite letting 1-3 Arkansas State take them to the wire. The Red Wolves drove 68 yards on 17 plays to cut the score to 24-21 with 2:01 left before running out of time. For whatever reason, Iowa has looked more dominant when facing teams like Penn State and Arizona than Northern Iowa and Arkansas State.
Underrated: Nebraska (AP: No. 21. Coaches: No. 22).
The 3-1 Huskers' resume is admittedly light: All they have are three lopsided wins over Sun Belt foes. But I know this much: On Sept. 19, I watched Nebraska play Virginia Tech toe-to-toe in Blacksburg before falling at the last second. The Hokies are currently ranked fifth. Miami -- whom Virginia Tech walloped last week -- is 11th. Something tells me the Huskers are closer to their class.
Current BCS forecast
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games.
Title game: Alabama vs. Texas
Rose: USC vs. Ohio State
Fiesta: Kansas vs. Boise State
Sugar: Florida vs. Cincinnati
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Iowa
In looking for a team to replace Oklahoma as the Fiesta Bowl's first at-large choice, the most logical choice at first appeared to be Oregon. But Glendale is almost certainly where Boise State will play if it goes undefeated, and no one's going to let "Oregon-Boise State II" happen. For lack of a better option, I chose Kansas, whose schedule lends itself to a possible 10-win season.
Spreading the field
Credit UTEP for the most staggering one-week turnaround you'll ever see. Seven days after notching 53 yards of offense in a 64-7 drubbing by Texas, the Miners turned around and gained 581 yards in a 58-41 upset of No. 12 Houston, ending the Cougars' BCS-busting hopes. Running back Donald Buckram's astounding stat line on the night: 32 carries for 262 yards and four touchdowns.
Remarkably, star Cougars quarterback Case Keenum delivered his most prolific performance to date -- 51-of-76 for 536 yards, five TD and no interceptions -- and Houston still gained 664 yards of offense. But a week after making several fourth-quarter stops against Texas Tech, Kevin Sumlin's admittedly thin defense couldn't keep up in a relentless shootout, giving up six second-half touchdowns.
You could see Saturday just how much USC missed quarterback Matt Barkley and safety Taylor Mays in that Washington loss. Mays crushed Cal's spirits early when he intercepted a Kevin Riley pass in the end zone on the Bears' first series. He finished with 10 tackles, while Barkley went 20-of-35 for 283 yards, his lone interception coming in the fourth quarter when the 30-3 win was well in hand.
There should be few remaining skeptics of Auburn's retooled offense after Gus Malzahn's crew racked up 459 yards against Tennessee's eighth-ranked defense in a 26-22 win. The 5-0 Tigers were incredibly balanced (235 yards passing, 224 rushing). Meanwhile, beleaguered Vols quarterback Jonathan Crompton "managed to miss his receivers in every way possible," according to the Associated Press.
It's hard to believe how far Florida State has sunk in the two weeks since its 54-28 win at BYU. Following a 28-21 loss at Boston College, the 'Noles are 2-3 for the first time since 1976 (Bobby Bowden's first season) and 0-2 in the ACC for the first time, period. Bowden says he'll "wait to the end of the year" to evaluate his future. Sadly, we've been hearing that line annually for about five years.
It's so much fun to watch Stanford running back Toby Gerhart. At 6-1, 235 pounds, you'd expect the senior to lumber through the line of scrimmage --- but then he breaks outside and turns on the jets. Though he won't be beating Jahvid Best in any track meets, he's supplanted the Cal star as the Pac-10's most productive runner, averaging 130 yards per game to rank No. 4 nationally.
Coming into the season, Wisconsin fans were starting to throw around the words "hot seat" regarding fourth-year coach Bret Bielema. Here's guessing they're back on the Bielema bandwagon now that the Badgers are off to their fourth 5-0 start in six years. Wisconsin used its classic formula to beat Minnesota, running the ball with John Clay (184 yards, three TDs) and forcing key turnovers.
Cincinnati has won 26 games since 2007, yet Saturday's 37-13 win over Miami (Ohio) marked the first time since the '07 opener that the Bearcats produced a 100-yard rusher (Jacob Ramsey, 103). Brian Kelly's quick-strike offense isn't much into ball control: His 5-0 team held the ball for just 19 minutes against the RedHawks and ranks dead-last nationally in average time of possession (23:47).
North Carolina has been one of the season's biggest disappointments. The Tar Heels have scored 10 combined points in their first two ACC games, bottoming out with a 16-3 home loss to 0-3 Virginia in which UNC managed 174 total yards. Down two starting offensive linemen and tight end, the Tar Heels can't protect quarterback T.J. Yates, who clearly misses departed playmaker Hakeem Nicks.
It seems like sometimes West Virginia forgets that it has one of the most explosive players in the country in its backfield. After an ugly first half against Colorado in which the Mountaineers lost four fumbles, coach Bill Stewart decided, "let's put the ball in No. 7's hands and win the football game." Noel Devine wound up running 22 times -- his most carries in a year -- for 220 yards.
It's tough being an Iowa State fan these days. The Cyclones appeared set to send Saturday's game against Kansas State to overtime following Austen Arnaud's 23-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left, but the Wildcats blocked the extra point. Meanwhile, reviled ex-coach Gene Chizik has already won as many games at Auburn (five) as he did during his in two seasons in Ames.
Here's one way to break out of an early-season slump. Nevada, 0-3 heading into its annual rivalry date with UNLV, rolled up 773 total yards -- including 559 rushing -- to beat the Rebels 63-28. Freshman Mike Ball, who entered the game with one rushing attempt, ran 15 times for 184 yards and five touchdowns.
After averaging just 127.3 yards on the ground its first four games, Penn State rolled up 338 rushing yards against suddenly hapless Illinois. "Our offensive line played real confident today," said Joe Paterno. Who wouldn't against the Illini?
Idaho, which hasn't won more than four games in a season since 2000, improved to 4-1 with a 31-29 win over Colorado State. Could it be that Boise State's toughest WAC competitor this year is in its own state?
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