As fall arrived, so did the nation's best defenses
EUGENE, Ore. -- As the schedule moves from the rent-a-victims to more familiar opponents, points and yards are going to be harder to earn.
No. 3 Oregon doesn't play defense the way the other national contenders play it. No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU pummel teams into submission.
Defense is not the Ducks' trademark, as is the case in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge. The Oregon defense is accustomed to living in the shadow of its flashy teammates on offense.
"I'm aware of that. I'm very much aware of that," Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said, laughing.
The Ducks just make a play when they have to make it -- and on Saturday night, they made a lot of them. Oregon shut out No. 22 Arizona 49-0, stopping the Wildcats on 23 snaps in the red zone.
On a Saturday that featured four games between Top 25 teams, defense carried the day everywhere but Tallahassee. No. 4 Florida State, in a 49-37 comeback victory over No. 10 Clemson, treated the Tigers' defense the same way it treated the Murray States and Savannah States, shredding Clemson for 667 yards.
That game proved to be the outlier.
No. 11 Notre Dame forced six Michigan turnovers and a mea culpa from Wolverines senior quarterback Denard Robinson in a 13-6 victory that provided slobberknocking and tension in lieu of points. No. 15 Kansas State turned three turnovers into 14 points and stunned No. 6 Oklahoma 24-19 in Norman.
Those defensive gems paled compared to what Oregon showed Saturday night. Arizona came into Autzen Stadium having scored 115 points in its past two games. The Wildcats' offense had produced 16 plays of 20-plus yards. The Oregon defense allowed Arizona one big play (a 23-yard fourth-quarter run after the score was 35-0) and no points. The Ducks also forced five turnovers, including a pair of pick-sixes in the fourth quarter.
The Oregon defense, which is used to playing as much as 35 minutes per game because of the Ducks' fast-paced, fast-scoring offense, will never win the statistical wars. But the Ducks are deep, they tackle well, and they complete their assignments.
"Stats, most of the time, you look at those because you're losing or you're trying to find a way to make you look better," Aliotti said. "The most important stat is shaped like a W."
The Wildcats went into the red zone four times in the first 18 minutes of the game and six times overall. Those drives ended with a mishandled field-goal snap, a blocked field goal, two interceptions and two good old-fashioned fourth-down stops.
"It's hard to get a shutout in modern football," Aliotti said. "In today's game, you can play unbelievable defense, and you get a field goal blocked, and they run it in for a touchdown. Shutout? The first quarter, I had no idea what was going to happen. It was tough sledding there, early."
Oregon didn't physically dominate Arizona the way that LSU stuffed Auburn in a 12-10 road victory. The Tigers limited Auburn to 183 total yards and two third-down conversions. On 12 of its 13 possessions, Auburn had at least one play on which it lost yardage or turned it over.
The LSU offense, limited a year ago, didn't look much different Saturday night. Quarterback Zach Mettenberger played as if he had never started an SEC road game. But with that defense, LSU doesn't need much offense.
As fall arrived, so did the best defenses in the nation. Wouldn't you know it? They belong to the top-ranked teams.
Clemson loses control of Atlantic Division race
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called the Tigers' 49-37 loss to Florida State "a little bit of a step back."
As far as the overall health of the program goes? He's right. Clemson didn't "pull a Clemson." It didn't embarrass itself like it did in the Orange Bowl. It didn't lose to a struggling Maryland team. It played a thriller on the road against the No. 4 team in the country and lost to the better team. No shame there.
As far as the Atlantic Division standings go? Clemson took a Size 16 step back.
Considering the way the rest of the division has looked, Saturday's game in Tallahassee felt more like a November deal-breaker for the Tigers than it did a September scene-setter in the ACC.
This was a high-stakes game that put Florida State in the driver's seat and now has Clemson in a must-win situation while hoping the Noles trip up somewhere down the stretch -- twice.
"Obviously this is a tough loss because it is a division loss as well, so we don't control our own destiny anymore," said Swinney. "That's the difficult part of it, but it's far from over. We've got a lot of football left. We are still in the car, we just don't have our hands on the steering wheel anymore."
The defending ACC champs took a wrong turn when they allowed FSU to go on a 35-3 run over a span of about 20 minutes. Clemson had a 28-14 lead at the half and quarterback Tajh Boyd was giving FSU's defense fits with his mobility, but the Noles made adjustments in the second half and got better pressure on him. They also realized they've got a Heisman contender of their own.
Clemson's season isn't over, but its chances of repeating as ACC champs now depend in part on Florida State's success or lack thereof. "We still have an opportunity to have a really good football team," Swinney said. "We have an opportunity to have a great season. Anything can happen."
As long as it happens to Florida State, too.
Auburn displays toughness in close loss to LSU
AUBURN, Ala. -- All week, Auburn coach Gene Chizik preached toughness.
If his Tigers were going to have a chance against No. 2 LSU, they had to play tough -- much tougher than they had in the first three weeks of the season.
Well, Chizik's team didn't get the win, and it will head into October with three losses for the first time in school history, but the Tigers should do so with a little more fire and a little more confidence after a hard-fought 12-10 loss to LSU.
"We just kept telling each other we have to come out and play hard every play," defensive back Josh Holsey said. "We all bought into the mentality that we're just going to just bust them in the mouth as soon as possible."
Unlike Auburn's previous two losses, these Tigers showed a lot of mettle and toughness. For a team that entered the night possessing the SEC's second-worst defense, Auburn shut down LSU's offense when it had to. Sure, there was some bend in the rush defense, but LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger never looked comfortable, thanks to an Auburn pass rush that took the pass threat away.
Mettenberger fumbled twice, was sacked twice (by Corey Lemonier) and hurried seven times. That harassment led to some poor throws by Mettenberger and some miscues by LSU's offense.
Even with how bad Auburn's offense played (183 total yards), with 39 seconds left, Auburn had a chance to win.
Auburn now has two weeks to build off this effort. There aren't moral victories, but it should feel much better now than it did after the first three weeks.
"We played against our second top-10 team and had chances to win the game, but we didn't finish, and it is disappointing, but our goal every week is to improve," Chizik said. "I saw a lot of improvement out of our football team tonight in a lot of different ways.
"I'm very proud of the effort they gave, and the improvement they made."
Assessing the BCS title race through Week 4
At the season's quarter pole, and after two consecutive Saturday night shakeups, what have we learned about the national championship picture and the storylines we touched on leading into the fall?
Some have panned out, just as expected; others have been complete surprises. Here are my takeaways from Week 4.
1. Alabama is good. Really good.
You simply cannot begin this discussion with any other team than the defending champs.
We knew in August that the Tide would again be solid, despite replacing nearly a dozen starters on both sides of the ball. But this level of domination, regardless of the competition, has been remarkable.
The defense went from the third quarter of the opener against Michigan to the fourth quarter Saturday against Florida Atlantic without giving up a point, a span of more than 12 quarters -- more specifically, 205 minutes, 25 seconds.
Right now, there's Bama and everyone else. That includes LSU, which was shaky on the road Saturday at Auburn. There's still plenty of time, though, for steam to build before the teams' Nov. 3 meeting in Baton Rouge.
To read the rest of Travis Haney's story, click here .
Landry Jones takes the fall for Oklahoma
NORMAN, Okla. -- Landry Jones' fumble against Kansas State sure looked like his fumble in the Cotton Bowl two years ago.
A polished player in so many ways, Jones continues to make the same mindless mistakes he did as a young quarterback. And Saturday night, it cost Oklahoma big, as Kansas State stunned the sixth-ranked Sooners, 24-19.
"I played pretty terrible," Jones said. "We played really dumb football, especially me.
"This one is on me."
Dumb football is not what you'd expect from a fifth-year player in his fourth season as the starting quarterback. But that's what the Sooners got from Jones, whose two costly turnovers led to a pair of K-State touchdowns.
Jones also overthrew tight end Brannon Green, who was wide open in the end zone, on OU's opening drive, which forced the Sooners to settle for a field goal -- and set the tone for the night.
But the turnovers were the difference.
To read the rest of Jake Trotter's story, click here.
Three weekend observations
1. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones took the blame for the Sooners' 24-19 loss to Kansas State, which is what leaders do. But one of the great mysteries of the past couple of seasons is the disappearance of Jones' mojo. Jones may be the Sooners' all-time passing leader -- he surpassed 13,000 career yards Saturday night -- but he is not the playmaker he was as a sophomore. His QB rating against the Sooners' two FBS opponents this season has been in the 120s. Oklahoma needs more, especially in an offense-happy Big 12.
2. Buck up, Buckeyes and the rest of the Big Ten. With Central Michigan's victory over Iowa, you've lost to MAC teams only three times this season. While it's true that has happened only once since 2003, and it's true that the Big Ten has no one in the top 15, maybe we shouldn't read too much into it. The MAC also beat the Big 12 (Northern Illinois over Kansas) and the Big East (Ball State over USF, Western Michigan over UConn) on Saturday. Maybe the MAC's better than anyone thought.
3. I try not to laugh when my fellow media members speculate. We're all making guesses, some more educated than others. But the notion that Oregon State head coach Mike Riley might be on the hot seat this season seemed just ludicrous. He's been the most successful coach there in a generation. He grew up in Corvallis. Riley is Oregon State. And now that the Beavers opened with wins against Wisconsin and UCLA, that speculation is over.
Highlights: Kansas State-Oklahoma
GameDay crew final thoughts
I think two teams turned the corner on Saturday: Florida State and Kansas State. Florida State, when it fell behind by double digits the past two years, would start pressing. The Seminoles wouldn't make plays, and always found a way to come up short. Instead, against Clemson, they probably played their best football when they fell behind 31-21.
Since Bill Snyder returned, Kansas State has thrived with its execution and not making mistakes when it could be overwhelmed physically. Oklahoma was chief among the teams that routinely overwhelmed the Wildcats physically. That didn't happen, and it wasn't all just Collin Klein. It was the defense. It was the running game with John Hubert.
Helmet stickers go to:
• DE Scott Crichton, Oregon State
6 Tkls, 2.0 sacks, 3.0 TFL, 1 pass defended in win at UCLA
• WR Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
6 receptions, 164 yards, 2 TDs in win at Illinois
The unpredictability just continues to happen in college football. Alabama is the only team week in and week out that you can really count on to show up. I think you can start saying that about Florida State and Oregon, too.
The passing game and the efficiency of it has neutralized a lot of things. That's how Louisiana Tech goes in and beats Illinois very decisively.
It's crazy each and every week, but it's really getting exciting now because we're going into conference play for most teams. Now we're going to find out what's happening in different conferences. The Big Ten won't look as bad because they'll be playing against one another.
Alabama continues to be the most consistent team. It is not going to beat itself. The Crimson Tide will not make stupid mistakes. They're going to be well-prepared, and they're going to give you four quarters of play no matter if the starters or backups are in there.
I was very impressed by Oregon's defense. We all rave about the Ducks' offense, as well we should, but the way the defense shut down Arizona, a team that had scored more than 50 points in each of its two previous games -- that was impressive.
Oregon State is a team no one has talked about, but in its first two games out the gate, it defeated two ranked teams. And how about its defense? Holding UCLA to 72 yards rushing and holding Wisconsin to 35 yards rushing & that's a heck of an effort.
Just like Alabama, Kansas State is not going to do stupid things. The Wildcats are going to grind it out. But here we go again with Oklahoma. "Big Game Bob" Stoops hasn't won a big game in a while.
When is this going to happen for this team? It's one of those things where I don't know if he is ever going to get the magic back. He got his brother, Mike, coming back as the defensive coordinator, but defensively, it just wasn't there.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB EJ Manuel, Florida State
380 passing yards, 2 TDs, 102 rushing yards in win versus Clemson
• RB Stefphon Jefferson, Nevada
7 TDs (6 rushing, 1 receiving) in win versus Hawaii
Blog Network: What we learned
This was the statement performance Florida State needed. Now the Noles can't let up if they have designs on playing for a national title.
If K-State keeps playing like it did against OU, preventing big plays and squeezing the life out of opposing defenses, can anybody in the Big 12 beat the Wildcats?
Hey Big East, you want to be taken seriously? You win the games you are supposed to win. That didn't happen on Saturday.
There's no way to sugarcoat it. The Big Ten's nonconference slate (which has two more inconsequential games left) has been a disaster.
The previous two seasons, Oregon State couldn't run the ball or stop the run. Now the Beavers apparently can do both. That's sort of a big thing.
Heading into the season, it was the SEC Western Division that had the Big Three. Now, it looks like the East might own that distinction.
This defense is for real. That is now back-to-back games without surrendering a touchdown, against Michigan State and Michigan, no less.
Recruiting Nation: Week 4
Blog Network: Helmet stickers
Every week our bloggers will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.
• ACC: EJ Manuel; Mike James; Shadrach Thornton
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• Big 12: Brandon Carter; Tevin Reese; Kenny Cain
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• Big East: Gary Nova; Tino Sunseri; Mike Shanahan
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• Big Ten: Matt McGloin; Le'Veon Bell; Jared Abbrederis
More Big Ten stickers
• Pac-12: Jordan Webb; Taylor Kelly; Scott Crichton
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• SEC: Cobi Hamilton; Dustin Harris; Sam Montgomery
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• Notre Dame: Tommy Rees; Theo Riddick; Manti Te'o
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