Posted: Saturday September 18, 2010 4:20PM ; Updated: Sunday September 19, 2010 2:46AM
Stewart Mandel
Stewart Mandel>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Arizona's showcase win, Huskers are for real; more Snaps

Story Highlights

Taylor Martinez and Nebraska are legitimate BCS championship contenders

Arkansas' win sets up a huge showdown with No. 1 Alabama next weekend

Denard Robinson was great again, but Michigan's defense can't stop anyone

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Nick Foles
Nick Foles and Arizona's sense of triumph was laced with relief after they watch Iowa rally from a 27-7 deficit to tie the game 8:12 left.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona has waited a long time for a showcase victory like its 34-27 upset of ninth-ranked Iowa (RECAP | BOX). Unfortunately, it ended so late (after 2 a.m. on the East Coast) that only the diehards may have seen it. Those that put in the time, however, watched the Wildcats' Desert Swarm defense (version 2010) sack Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi four straight times (one didn't count due to a false start call) to put the final stamp on a huge win that nearly got away from them.

Arizona got off to a lighting-quick start, blocking a punt to set up one touchdown and returning a kickoff for another to jump to a 27-7 lead. The Wildcats then spent most of the second half bumbling around, committing a slew penalties, before a remarkable momentum swing in which Iowa recovered a fumbled punt return, followed by a Stanzi touchdown pass to cut the score to 27-21, followed promptly by a Broderick Binns pick six to tie the game.

But unlike past Arizona teams, this one put a stop to the meltdown. It blocked an extra point to keep from falling behind. QB Nick Foles, who threw for 303 yards, marched the Wildcats 72 yards to go back up by seven. And then the defense never gave Stanzi a chance to pull off one of his patented last-minute victories.

The Hawkeyes made some uncharacteristic mistakes and should still be a factor in the Big Ten, but they leave Tucson with some troubling questions. Most notably, Iowa's offensive line -- its most inexperienced unit -- got flat-out abused (senior guard Julian Vandervelde's apparent ankle injury didn't help).

But Stoops' program has been building toward this moment for years. With Foles and his bevy of playmakers and a fast, swarming defense, Arizona made a statement that it will play a central role in this year's Pac-10 title race.

Nebraska is back

Power football is officially back at Nebraska -- and with it, realistic BCS championship aspirations.

Watching the Huskers' rushing attack flat-out bulldoze upset-minded Washington on Saturday was like taking a trip back to the '90s. Nebraska racked up 383 rushing yards in a 56-21 rout (RECAP | BOX). At one point, the Huskers rushed 19 straight times for 246 yards and four touchdowns. It was exactly how Nebraska used to beat people during its heyday, though with a modern twist: Freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez (who broke an 80-yard run en route to his third straight 100-yard rushing game) operates out of the shotgun, executing the zone read with I-backs Roy Helu Jr. and Rex Burkhead much like one of Chip Kelly's Oregon quarterbacks would. (Helu Jr. and Burkhead also ran for more than 100 yards.)

The Nebraska defense did its thing, too, limiting Huskies star Jake Locker to a nightmarish 4-of-20, 71-yard, two-interception performance. (Washington can go ahead and shut down its "Locker 4 Heisman" campaign.) This was a harsh reality check for Steve Sarkisian's program, which learned it still has a ways to go in its rebuilding effort. But the more pertinent message to take away from this one is that Martinez and the Huskers are for real. That Texas game can't get here soon enough.

Auburn survives hard-fought affair

By the fourth quarter, Saturday night's Clemson-Auburn game had become more a matter of survival than victory. As Brent Musburger noted frequently, the extent of the hitting on both sides was palpable. Stretchers were twice summoned to fetch injured linemen. These were two teams playing fast and physical, and the consequences, unfortunately, were sometimes dangerous.

Auburn's hard-earned 27-24 (RECAP | BOX) overtime victory -- in which it rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit -- should do wonders for its confidence, but the physical drain could have a bigger impact. We'll see next week. Quarterback Cameron Newton had another uneven performance, but when he was on, he delivered two touchdown passes, including a 78-yard strike to Terrell Zachary.

Clemson, meanwhile, will leave The Plains devastated. In its first real test of the season, Dabo Swinney's showed it could match its SEC foe physically, and for the most part, the Tigers did exactly what they wanted to. They controlled the clock, had no turnover and got a nice game from quarterback Kyle Parker (20-of-34, 220 yards, two TDs). Even after blowing a two-touchdown lead, they rallied back with a 77-yard fourth quarter drive. But a couple defensive lapses allowed Auburn to get back in the game. But they came up short on Chandler Catanzaro's missed 32-yard field goal in overtime. The only good news: They get next week off to recover.

'Little Giants' beats Notre Dame

Mark Dantonio is a gruff, fairly nondescript coach. Four years into his Michigan State tenure, I'm not sure the average fan outside of Midwest country would recognize him or remember anything noteworthy about his time there.

Until now.

No matter how the rest of Michigan State's season unfolds, few will forget the Spartans' fake field goal on fourth and 14 to beat Notre Dame in overtime Saturday night. With a mischievous grin on his face, Dantonio told ESPN's Holly Rowe afterward that the play was called "Little Giants." They executed it perfectly. Holder Aaron Bates (Michigan State's punter) took the snap, got up, waited a beat for tight end Charlie Gantt to break free down field (two Notre Dame defenders got tangled up and fell over trying to backpedal) and hit him for a 29-yard score to win 34-31. ( RECAP | BOX)

The play may also be marked by a bit of controversy. Within minutes, Twitter was abuzz with screen shots (and I rewound my own DVR to confirm) showing the stadium play clock hit :00 just before Michigan State snapped the ball.

As he went to shake Dantonio's hand, defeated Irish coach Brian Kelly could be seen smiling as he told his adversary, "Good call." Kelly is usually the sideline gambler, and in fact avoided some serious blowback when his decision to go for it on fourth and 1 from his own 42 midway through the fourth quarter ended in a Dayne Crist fumble. (MSU didn't convert). Crist completed 32 of 55 passes for 369 yards and four TDs, but Notre Dame's defense couldn't stop Michigan State's rushing attack, which netted 203 yards.

They'll be celebrating like mad in East Lansing tonight, with good reason. The win exorcises some serious demons for the Spartans, who memorably blew a 31-14 lead to Brady Quinn-led Notre Dame in a 2006 night game and suffered a last-minute loss to the Irish in South Bend last season. They move to 3-0 and, with Northern Colorado next week, will likely be 4-0 come their Big Ten opener against No. 11 Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the honeymoon is officially over for Kelly, who must now dig his team out of a 1-2 start.

Wisconsin survives scare

No. 11 Wisconsin needed a couple of major breaks to survive an upset bid from visiting Arizona State. The Badgers stopped Sun Devils kick returner Kyle Middlebrooks one yard shy of a potential 96-yard touchdown on the last play of the first half, then blocked a potential game-tying extra point with 4:09 remaining before a clock-killing drive sealed a 20-19 win (RECAP | BOX).

The Sun Devils' defense did a nice job bottling up Badgers star John Clay for much of the first three quarters, but he wound up with 122 yards on 22 carries. QB Scott Tolzien made some nice third-down throws. But Wisconsin has reason to worry. Two of its top defenders, Chris Borland and J.J. Watt, went down with injuries (severity not yet known) and with receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath out, tight end Lance Kendricks was the lone reliable receiver.

The Badgers got the W, but ASU, coming off two straight losing seasons, probably goes home more encouraged. QB Steven Threet (Michigan's former starter) played very well, but was hurt by penalties and a couple of would-be touchdowns his receivers couldn't haul in (one on a blatant no-call pass interference by Wisconsin). If Washington isn't ready to step up in the Pac-10, maybe Dennis Erickon's team is.

Same problem, same result for Gators

I could sit here and write for the third straight week about Florida's ugly offense, but the fact is the Gators keep putting up the same, successful result. After yet another slow start (leading 7-3 at halftime) against an inferior opponent (albeit SEC divisional foe Tennessee), the Gators put together three second-half touchdown drives -- spurred in part by a successful fake punt from their own 39 when the score was still 10-10 -- to win 31-17 (RECAP | BOX).

Quarterback John Brantley (14-of-23, 167 yards, one TD, no INTs) had his best performance to date, which the Gators needed, because they failed to pop off the big running plays they delivered the first two weeks. Still, it's clear Urban Meyer's team is surprisingly lacking in firepower. The Gators finished with just 323 yards against the same team Oregon came in and walloped a week earlier. At some point they'll face a foe with a consistent offense, and then they'll need to start executing before the third quarter.

Mallett's Heisman moment

Georgia shut down Greg Childs for much of the game, but Arkansas' star receiver hauled in a game-winning 40-yard touchdown in the final seconds.
Georgia shut down Greg Childs for much of the game, but Arkansas' star receiver hauled in a game-winning 40-yard touchdown in the final seconds.
AP

He had the numbers. He had the hype. Saturday, Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett finally delivered a "Heisman moment." His game-winning, 40-yard touchdown pass to Greg Childs in the final 15 seconds against Georgia was easily the biggest play of both Mallett's and coach Bobby Petrino's Arkansas tenures. It also sets up a huge game next week in Fayetteville when the 12th-ranked Razorbacks (3-0) host No. 1 Alabama.

Mallett finished the day an impressive 21-of-33 for 380 yards, three touchdowns and no picks, yet his effort almost went to waste (RECAP | BOX). Arkansas blew a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead and, after Georgia tied it with 3:55 left, the Dawgs sacked Mallett on a subsequent three-and-out. But after the Razorbacks got the ball back with 54 seconds left, Mallett needed just three passes to get Arkansas into the end zone. Much like on his first touchdown throw, in which a wicked play-fake (he hid the ball behind his back) left Chris Gragg wide open, Mallett's target went untouched by the Dawgs' defense.

Arkansas' glory comes at the expense of Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose hopes of a bounce-back season have faded into a nightmarish 0-2 SEC start (the first of his 10-year tenure). The Dawgs, who clearly miss suspended star receiver A.J. Green, struggled most of the game to stretch the field, but they have other issues, too. Their veteran offensive line has mysteriously regressed, and their defense -- well, ask Mallett about those guys. Green will miss next week's game against Mississippi State, too, when Georgia will try to stave off an all-out disaster.

Big blues for Michigan defense

The thought going into Michigan's presumed scrimmage against Massachusetts was that Heisman darling Denard Robinson would not stay on the field long enough to put up more video-game numbers. But the Wolverines' woeful defense may play its own part in the quarterback's campaign.

Robinson went the distance, throwing for 241 yards and two touchdowns (and his first interception) while rushing for another 104 as the Wolverines held off the FCS Minutemen, 42-37 (RECAP | BOX). For the first time, Robinson wasn't the Wolverines' leading rusher (Michael Shaw had 126 yards on 12 carries), but clearly, the laceless one is going to have to be Superman all season long, because Michigan's defense can't stop anybody.

Hokies avoid disaster

Virginia Tech finally found its mojo (and a win) against East Carolina, though it was pretty scary there for a bit (RECAP | BOX). The Hokies trailed 10-0 early and 27-21 in the middle of the third quarter, and star running back Ryan Williams left the game with a hamstring injury. But backups Darren Evans (10 carries, 91 yards) and David Wilson (12 carries, 89 yards) stepped up in his place, helping the Hokies to consecutive touchdown drives before they pulled away in the fourth quarter.

Frank Beamer's team, now 1-2, opens ACC play next week at Boston College, when we'll find out whether the former top 10 squad can resurrect its season. One of its divisional foes, Georgia Tech, also got a nice bounce-back win Saturday. A week after losing at Kansas, the Yellow Jackets held off suspension-depleted North Carolina, 30-24, for a conference road win in Chapel Hill. However, I'm not sure that result bodes well for either team.

 
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