College Football Overtime (cont.)
Big Ten Redemption
A year after bottoming out with a 1-6 bowl record and running its BCS losing streak to six, the Big Ten has already enjoyed a somewhat redemptive bowl season, with Ohio State (against No. 7 Oregon), Penn State (against No. 13 LSU) and Wisconsin (against No. 14 Miami) all beating top 15 foes. An Iowa win over Georgia Tech in Tuesday night's Orange Bowl would give the league a second BCS win and, believe it or not, its first winning bowl season since 2002.
To do that, the Hawkeyes are going to have to slow down Josh Nesbitt, Jonathan Dwyer and the rest of the Jackets' triple-option attack. On paper, they have all the pieces to do it -- speedy defensive ends (Adrian Clayborn, Armon Binns) to collapse on Nesbitt, sound linebackers (Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds) to stuff the inside runs. On other hand, it's hard to forget the image of Ohio State runners Dan Herron and Brandon Saine gashing Iowa's D for 200 yards in their Nov. 14 overtime clash.
Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker, a self-professed "old guy" (he's 68), is apparently having a blast preparing for Tech's offense. At a press conference in Miami last Friday, he gave reporters an enthusiastic primer on the triple-option using a juice bottle, a Starbucks cup, an empty glass and a Poland Spring bottle as props.
Coaches Showing Backbone
The two most entertaining bowl games to date were decided by a pair of ballsy ploys the teams' coaches likely never would have attempted during the regular season. For Idaho's Robb Akey, it resulted in a dramatic victory. For Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, a heartbreaking defeat.
Idaho's 43-42 Humanitarian Bowl shootout over Bowling Green featured five fourth-quarter touchdowns. When wide-open Falcons star Freddie Barnes hauled in a 51-yard score with 32 seconds left, it sure looked like Bowling Green would win 42-35. But Idaho quarterback Nathan Enderle came right back with a 50-yard completion followed by a 16-yard touchdown to a diving Max Komar -- who'd dropped several passes earlier in the game -- with four seconds left.
Akey -- who'd already won a lot of new fans with his halftime proclamation to "Watch the second half, you're gonna love it!" -- wasn't playing for overtime. Endlerle found Preston Davis in the back of the end zone for a game-winning two-point conversion. "We thought, Why make everybody wait for overtime?" said Akey. "Let's get it done now."
Northwestern's Fitzgerald ordered up his own remarkable two-pointer late in regulation of Friday's drama-filled Outback Bowl -- receiver Andrew Brewer, a former quarterback, took a reverse and threw to Brendan Mitchell to tie Auburn 35-35 with 1:15 left. But that was just the beginning of a wild sequence of events.
The Wildcats recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and had a chance to win in regulation, but kicker Stefan Demos missed a 44-yard field goal. Twice in overtime, Auburn, having gone up 38-35, appeared to have won (first on Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka's fumble, later on another Demos miss) only to be waved off (replay determined Kafka was down, and Auburn was penalized for running into Demos, who injured himself on the play).
With the Wildcats down to unused freshman walk-on kicker Steve Flaherty, Fitzgerald opted to go for the win on fourth-and-goal at the five. On a rushed fake field goal, he pulled out a "fumble-rooski" play devised by the late Randy Walker, Northwestern's former coach. On a rushed fake field goal (even ESPN's cameramen were caught off-guard) holder Dan Persa left the ball between the legs of receiver Zeke Markshausen, who took off running to the right. Auburn's Neiko Thorpe wasn't fooled and stopped him two yards short. Game over.
"I said a month ago we were going to come here to play to win," said Fitzgerald, whose team was trying to end a 61-year bowl-win drought. "I'd do it again and twice on Sunday."
Kudos to both men. Bowl games are all about cutting loose -- on and off the field.
Spreading The Field
Bobby Bowden couldn't have scripted his final game any better. Playing before a packed house at the Gator Bowl, Bowden got to plant the spear at midfield, got a new car (courtesy Toyota), got to reunite with 300-plus former players, got a 33-21 victory over West Virginia, got a ride on his players' shoulders and got a kiss on the lips from wife Ann at the end of his postgame press conference.
"Time to go home, baby," she told her 80-year-old husband. Her gain is our loss.
We now know the secret to all those explosive Pac-10 offenses this season: They weren't exactly facing stellar defenses. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor (against Oregon), Oklahoma's Landry Jones (against Stanford) and Utah's Jordan Wynn (against Cal) all had their best games of the season against Pac-10 bowl foes. Even Nebraska's offense posted nearly 400 yards against Arizona.
Despite losing stars James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Freeman, Ohio Sate wound up fielding its most consistent defense in years, capped off with a dominant Rose Bowl performance (holding Oregon to 17 points). Buckeyes fans will wait to find out whether defensive ends Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward put off the NFL draft. Both are considered possible first-round picks.
Boy did Cincinnati's defense implode down the stretch. After allowing just 12.9 points per game during their first eight contests, the Bearcats gave up 45 to Connecticut, 36 to Illinois and 44 to Pittsburgh. Then came Mr. Tebow, who diced the Bearcats for 533 total yards in a 51-24 rout. Just think: Had the SEC and Big 12 title games gone differently, that might have been the national-title matchup.
In the aforementioned Outback Bowl, Northwestern's Kafka compiled one of the strangest stat lines you'll ever see: He threw for 532 yards and four touchdowns on 47-of-78 passes (a bowl record for attempts), but he also tossed five interceptions, including one in the end zone that Auburn's Walter McFadden returned 100 yards for a touchdown. Northwestern gained 625 yards in the loss.
Les Miles' performance in a new SportsCenter commercial isn't nearly as comical as his team's repeated clock-management issues. Yet again, LSU looked lost while attempting a last-second drive against Penn State in the Capital One Bowl. After taking over at their own 41 with 48 seconds left, down 19-17, the Tigers got off just four plays, committing a costly late-hit penalty along the way.
Saturday's ugly Ole Miss-Oklahoma Cotton Bowl included 12 combined turnovers (including six by Oklahoma State in the fourth quarter alone) and 16 penalties. The one saving grace: Rebels star Dexter McCluster, who totaled 223 all-purpose yards, burst for an 86-yard touchdown run early and notched the go-ahead score on a direct snap with 4:03 left in Ole Miss' eventual 21-7 win.
Nebraska finally produced the kind of rushing attack it's been lacking all season in its 33-0 Holiday Bowl pasting of Arizona. Freshman running back Rex Burkhead (at times operating out of a new Wildcat package) went for 89 yards on 17 carries and quarterback Zac Lee notched season highs of 18 attempts and 65 yards. Not that the Huskers needed it; their defense held the Wildcats to 109 yards.
With his team's Chick-fil-A Bowl rout of Tennessee, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer completed his sixth straight 10-win season (surpassed nationally only by Texas) and ninth in the past 11 seasons. Meanwhile, running back Ryan Williams completed a phenomenal freshman season by breaking the Hokies' single-season rushing record (1,655) and the ACC record for total touchdowns (22).
Just when you thought Steve Spurrier couldn't possibly hit a new low at South Carolina, the Gamecocks went and laid an egg against Connecticut in the PapaJohns.com Bowl. Playing before 30,000 diehards who made the trip to Birmingham, Ala., South Carolina notched just 205 yards in a 20-7 loss. "We didn't take it as serious as we were supposed to," said lineman Garrett Anderson.
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