More Overtime (cont.)
There apparently is a kryptonite for Heisman darling Geno Smith: wind. At least, that's the case according to his coach. With then-No. 5 West Virginia trailing Texas Tech 35-7 at halftime, Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen cited the "40 mile per hour wind" in Lubbock as an explanation for his team's poor play during an interview with ABC's Quint Kessenich. Holgorsen used the same excuse at the conclusion of West Virginia's humbling 49-14 defeat, telling reporters, "Geno let the wind affect him."
For his part, Smith said: "The wind didn't bother me. Anyone who says that obviously doesn't know football."
Considering Texas Tech counterpart Seth Doege threw for 499 yards and six touchdowns, let's give due credit to the Red Raiders' defense for holding the previously unflappable Smith well below his previous production. The Mountaineers quarterback went 29-of-55 for 275 yards and just one first-quarter score. It didn't help that top receiver Stedman Bailey missed the second half with an ankle injury, but by that point, the game was already seemingly out of reach.
"He's the most accurate quarterback we've seen in a long time," Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said of Smith Sunday a day after improving his career record against top-five opponents to 6-2. "We tried to press their outside receivers, make them throw deep and take our chances. He overthrew four or five people and we were able to get them off the field."
Equally important, said Tuberville, was slowing West Virginia's rushing attack. The Mountaineers ran for 192 yards the week before against Texas, proving an antidote to the Longhorns' pass rush. Holgorsen again went to the ground often against Tech, but this time his stable of backs managed a mere 3.7 yards per carry.
The defensive clinic is as a milestone of sorts for Tuberville's program. A year after finishing 5-7 and ranking 114th in the nation in total defense, Tuberville changed coordinators for the third time in three seasons by hiring former North Carolina coordinator Art Kaufman. Under Kaufman's watch, the Red Raiders have improved to hold the No. 4 ranking, which may be a bit misleading because of their soft early schedule -- but then, it's hard to argue with shutting down Smith and the Mountaineers.
"Yesterday was a huge turning point for us," said Tuberville. "Here at Texas Tech there'd been no [emphasis] on defense the past 10, 11 years. It's been tough changing that mentality. Coach [Mike] Leach wanted to outscore people. There's nothing wrong with that, but that's not me."
Last year, an injury-depleted defense caused Tech to lose its final four games after knocking off No. 3 Oklahoma. On Saturday, starting cornerback Cornelius Douglas went down with a knee bruise in the first quarter, but juco transfer Bruce Jones stepped in for him seamlessly. Junior Tre Porter, who missed those last four games of 2011, helped lock down Mountaineers star Tavon Austin.
The No. 18 Red Raiders (5-1) are far from a finished product, and they were whipped by Oklahoma, 41-20, only a week earlier. But coming off a dominant performance against West Virginia, Tuberville's team is in dramatically better shape than it was after last year's top-five upset.
Mack Brown has won 78 percent of his games at Texas. He has won one national championship and played for another. He finished nine consecutive seasons with double-digit win totals at one point, and, at some places, would have earned his own statue outside his team's stadium.
But Brown has a penchant for doing the one thing most likely to alienate a fan base: He has routinely been crushed by the Longhorns' archrival.
Oklahoma's 63-21 Red River beatdown of Texas Saturday was just the latest indignity in a series that has seen Bob Stoops' squads beat Brown's teams by scores of 63-14 (2000), 65-13 (2003) and 55-17 (2011), respectively. Mind you, the 2000 and '03 Sooners went on to play for the national championship, and last year's squad was ranked No. 3 at the time of the game. This Oklahoma team is clearly much improved since its turnover-laden Sept. 22 home loss to Kansas State -- in particular, Mike Stoops' defense is starting to resemble the early-2000s Mike Stoops' defenses -- but it still sits at just No. 10 in the AP Poll.
"It's just unacceptable for Texas to lose like that to Oklahoma, much less anybody, especially two years in a row," said Brown, who fell to 5-9 against the Sooners. But that prompts a larger question: What is he going to do about it?
Following the early 2000s routs, the promise of young quarterbacks Chris Simms and Vince Young gave 'Horns fans hope for the future (though they were certainly ticked). And indeed, from 2000-04, when Oklahoma won five straight in the series, Texas lost just two regular-season games post-Red River. Last year's result could be chalked up to a young team still rebounding from the disastrous 5-7 campaign of 2010, but that transition has now hit a wall.
Brown's hot hire two years ago, touted young defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, currently oversees one of the worst defenses in the FBS. Texas, which has developed a mysterious aversion to tackling, has allowed 13 touchdowns of 20 yards or longer in Diaz's last eight games. Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin was brought in to beef up the 'Horns' rushing attack. They currently rank 43rd in country in that department.
Perhaps Texas will rekindle one of Brown's old traditions and embark on a late-season hot streak. But if not, what should he do? This isn't an emergency situation on par with Gene Chizik's predicament at Auburn, but Brown, at age 61 and making more than $5 million a year, won't likely be afforded a second chance to reinvent his program. It's too soon to declare Brown on the "hot seat," but it's a more plausible scenario than it's ever been before.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:
Title game: Alabama vs. Oregon
Rose: Michigan vs. USC
Fiesta: Kansas State vs. Notre Dame
Sugar: South Carolina vs. Oklahoma
Orange: Florida State vs. Louisville
Michigan (4-2) now looks like the leading candidate to represent the Big Ten in Pasadena. The Wolverines apparently have a pretty good defense (No. 10 nationally) when facing opponents other than Alabama, and they blanked Illinois 45-0 Saturday.
The Big 12 and SEC are all but assured to place two teams in the BCS, but good luck guessing which ones get the at-large spots. I'm still not convinced LSU makes it through with fewer than three losses, thereby making the Sugar Bowl a likely landing spot for the SEC East champion or runner-up. There, that team will face Oklahoma ... or West Virginia ...or TCU ... or ...