The Mountain West rides again, OU, Florida struggle, more Snaps
Everything seems different about Notre Dame, but the defense most of all
Now we know why Ole Miss was picked to finish last in its division
Florida really struggled to run the football in first game without Tim Tebow
If the Mountain West is going down, it's going down with (another) fight. Two nights after Utah handled Big East favorite Pittsburgh, No. 6 TCU (against No. 24 Oregon State) and BYU (against Washington) continued the league's recent success against Pac-10 foes. It would all add to the league's cause in pursuing a future BCS berth -- if not for the fact that two of the three are bolting the conference.
The Horned Frogs did not dominate, their win only assured after Oregon State's muffed snap went into its own end zone for a safety, but it's hard to argue with the result. They held Beavers star Jacquizz Rodgers to 74 yards on 18 carries and Oregon State to 253 total yards in a 30-21 victory. The Beavers' first-time starting quarterback, Ryan Katz, threw touchdowns of 30 and 34 yards early but was largely ineffective down the stretch, finishing 9-of-25 for 159 yards.
TCU's veteran QB Andy Dalton did not have his finest night, tossing two picks, but leading three long touchdown drives. While the Frogs are an experienced club, they did lose several key players from last year's 12-1 team and could be scary a month from now, much how they progressed a year ago.
BYU is in a much different position than TCU, in a perceived "rebuilding" season. While it was favored against the visiting Huskies (5-7 a year ago), some (like me) thought sernior Jake Locker would outduel the Cougars' quarterback tandem of first-time starter Riley Nelson and true freshman Jake Heaps. Not so.
Nelson and Heaps, who rotated series throughout, were solid; but give credit to BYU's defense for clamping down and shutting out Washington in the second half. Locker, whose hype continues to outpace his actual production, was 20-of-37 for 266 yards and zero picks, but he often found himself in difficult third- and fourth-down situations. The Huskies converted just 5 of their 18 attempts on those downs.
I must confess, I saw only one play of No. 7 Oklahoma's 31-24 win (RECAP | BOX) over Utah State, which I'm told was available only on obscure pay-per-view channels nationally. But the score definitely raises some eyebrows. Bob Stoops' teams usually rout these type teams, but the Aggies were in it nearly the whole way, driving with less than five minutes remaining before a nifty Jamell Fleming interception (the one play I saw) finally put things to a halt.
The good news: Senior tailback DeMarco Murray lived up to Stoops' lofty preseason expectations, rushing 35 times for 207 yards. Unfortunately, quarterback Landry Jones did not pick up where he left off in the Sun Bowl, completing less than half his passes, while Utah State counterpart Diondre Borel lit up the Sooners' defense for 341 yards. Is it too late to revise my Big 12 title pick?
New coach, new offense, new NBC color commentator (the impressive Mike Mayock) -- seemingly everything but the fight song has changed for Notre Dame, including the way it beat Purdue, 23-12, in coach Brian Kelly's debut (RECAP | BOX).
The Irish, so pass-heavy last year behind Jimmy Clausen, were balanced on offense, with Armando Allen rushing for 93 yards on 18 carries and new quarterback Dayne Crist delivering an efficient 19-for-26, 205-yard performance. They did struggle at times with the Boilers' pass rush (in particular, All-Big Ten monster Ryan Kerrigan), and receiver Michael Floyd fumbled away a potential long touchdown.
But the real story was Notre Dame's defense, which has struggled so mightily for so many years. Ian Williams and the defensive front relentlessly pressured Purdue quarterback Robert Marve, sacking him four times and intercepting him twice. It also helped that the Irish -- one of the most penalized teams in the country under Charlie Weis -- committed just two all day. All in all, encouraging.
Before Saturday, Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe's most memorable distinction as a college football coach was his abrupt firing at Arkansas in 1992 upon losing his season opener to I-AA foe The Citadel. One of the assistants on his staff that day was future Arkansas and Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt.
It may not qualify as "revenge," per se, but 18 years later, Crowe's own FCS (I-AA) squad just handed Nutt's Rebels their own opening-day embarrassment. Down 31-13 entering the fourth quarter, Jacksonville State rallied to send the game to overtime on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 18 seconds remaining. But the real drama came in the second overtime. Down seven and facing fourth-and-15 in the second overtime, quarterback Coty Blanchard fired a 30-yard touchdown pass to Kevyn Cooper in the back of the end zone. Crowe then went for the win, and got it, on a Blanchard two-point conversion pass (RECAP | BOX).
The irony, of course, is that the game's original significance was due to Ole Miss' quarterback, Oregon transfer Jeremiah Masoli, making his SEC debut after winning an NCAA appeal just a day earlier. Masoli shared time with starter Nathan Stanley, but he was Nutt's pick for both overtimes, and he performed decently enough, keeping the Rebels alive on a fourth-and-goal option pitch. The problem wasn't the quarterback; it was Ole Miss' defense, which collapsed in the second half and overtime.
Now we know why the Rebels were picked to finish last in their division -- and perhaps why Nutt so desperately wanted Masoli. They may have to score a lot of points come conference play.
Remember when Jeremiah Masoli (now at Ole Miss) and LaMichael James (suspended for one game) led Oregon to the Rose Bowl last season? Neither was on the field for the Ducks on Saturday, yet that didn't stop Oregon from running up a 59-0 halftime score against hapless New Mexico (RECAP | BOX). Kenjon Barner, James' replacement, rushed for 146 yards and four touchdowns and scored again on a 60-yard catch, while new QB Darron Thomas threw for 230 yards and two scores.
Ever since visiting Eugene in the spring, I've maintained that Oregon is still the team to beat in the Pac-10, in part because you won't find a faster backfield tandem than sophomores James and Barner. But throttling New Mexico, a 1-11 team last season, is one thing. Next week will provide a better gauge of Thomas -- still admittedly a work in progress -- when the Ducks visit Knoxville.