Sunday, September 27, 2009
What we learned in the Big 12, Week 4
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
- Texas A&M's defense is improved, but still untested. It would be hard to imagine a more valuable player for them than hybrid linebacker/defensive end Von Miller, who has produced a nation-leading eight sacks after three games. The Aggies lead the nation with 14 sacks after producing 16 in 12 games last season. Despite that strong early start, the A&M defense will get a heavy dose of reality Saturday when they face Ryan Mallett and Arkansas in Arlington, Texas, their toughest challenge to date.
- Mike Leach's inexplicable gamble. It was obvious that the hot, humid conditions at Robertson Stadium contributed greatly to the problem with cramping for both Houston and Texas Tech Saturday night. But those sticky conditions still can’t explain the brain cramp that Leach suffered when he passed on a field goal that would have given his team an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. That decision went against all conventional wisdom because it would have forced the Cougars to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion to merely tie the game. Leach’s red-zone hubris ended up costing the Red Raiders the game.
- Oklahoma State has the Big 12's deepest collection of backs. The development of Oklahoma State freshman running back Jeremy Smith underscores that Cowboys might have the best collection of productive players at that position in the conference. With 2008 leading rusher Kendall Hunter hobbling, Keith Toston rushed for 84 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. And then Smith produced a school freshman record total of 160 rushing yards in the second half. Throw in Beau Johnson and you have a collection of talent that most other schools will be challenged to match once Hunter is healthy.
- Kansas' defense made a statement with its late stand: For all of the talk about Kansas’ explosive offense, the Jayhawks needed a big defensive effort against Southern Mississippi. And despite some early struggles, the Jayhawks' defense came up big as it turned the Golden Eagles away without scoring on four-straight possessions to salt away the victory. Southern Mississippi was limited to 32 yards on 22 offensive plays in the fourth quarter as the Jayhawks produced three-and-outs in two of the final three drives and allowed one first down on the other drive. The late stand is something for co-coordinators Clint Bowen and Bill Miller to build confidence as they head into conference play.
- "The Sea of Red" remains constant. How about a shout-out to the Nebraska fans, who packed Memorial Stadium for their 300th consecutive sellout Saturday night? The streak has stretched from Kennedy to Obama, withstanding recessions and even the Steve Pederson/Bill Callahan era. The record crowd that jammed the old stadium Saturday night witnessed a vintage performance by the Blackshirts in a 55-0 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. If the Cornhuskers can keep playing like that, the legions of Nebraska fans could be treated to their second championship-game trip of this decade after making three visits in the first four seasons of the Big 12. And that kind of throwback would be a lot more enjoyable to them than any 1960s vintage uniform the Nebraska athletic department might be selling.