Offenses explode while defenses take weekend off
The last weekend of September was supposed to be uneventful, with only two games on Saturday featuring matchups of ranked teams and the rest of the Top 25 largely facing perceived cupcakes.
Defenses, for the most part, took the weekend off.
And while only two ranked teams fell (to higher-ranked teams), plenty of highly ranked teams had potential deficiencies exposed.
From coast to coast, scoreboard operators worked overtime to keep up with record-setting quarterbacks and offenses.
No. 9 West Virginia and No. 25 Baylor combined for 133 points in the Mountaineers' first Big 12 game.
No. 5 Georgia and Tennessee combined for 95 points, the highest-scoring game between the SEC rivals.
No. 12 Texas and Oklahoma State combined for 77 points and more than 1,000 yards of offense.
And Northwestern set a school record with 704 yards of offense to remain the Big Ten's only bowl-eligible team with an unblemished record.
Lack of defense left several highly ranked teams on the edge of disaster on Saturday.
"The bottom line is finding a way to win a ballgame," said Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo after the Bulldogs piled up 560 yards of offense and scored at least 40 points for the fifth consecutive game in a 51-44 victory over the Volunteers at Sanford Stadium. "It gave me a heart attack, but I love facing adversity and seeing how your guys respond. It shows you what you're made of. They aren't going to be easy all the time, and the final story isn't written until the last game."
But there were plenty of records rewritten on Saturday, including:
• West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith cranked up his Heisman Trophy campaign into high gear, completing 45 of 51 passes for 656 yards with eight touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 70-63 victory over Baylor, the highest-scoring game in Big 12 history. Smith tied a Big 12 record for touchdown passes in a game and has completed 83.4 percent of his passes for 1,728 yards with 20 touchdowns and no interceptions through four games.
"I could care less about a Heisman Trophy," Smith said. "The big thing for us was that we won the game today. We're on a mission, and we want to win them all."
The Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) might have to play better defense if they're going to contend for a Big 12 championship and BCS national title. The teams combined for 67 first downs and 1,507 yards of offense. Their 19 combined touchdowns set an FBS record, last set when Navy beat North Texas 74-62 in 2007. Baylor quarterback Nick Florence threw for 581 yards, breaking Robert Griffin III's single-game school record, and six wide receivers had more than 100 yards receiving.
"Not every Big 12 game is like this," Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said, "and not every game is going to be like this."
West Virginia's co-defensive coordinators sure hope not.
• Miami's Stephen Morris set an ACC single-game record with 566 passing yards in the Hurricanes' 44-37 victory over NC State on Saturday, including a 62-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett with 19 seconds left. The Hurricanes and Wolfpack combined for 1,315 yards of offense, including 1,006 passing, and 56 first downs. Miami has won three games in a row for the first time since 2009.
• Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel broke a single-game school record with 435 passing yards, and the Aggies piled up 716 yards of offense in a 58-10 rout of reeling Arkansas. The Aggies, who won their first SEC game, scored their most points against the Razorbacks in the 69-game history of the series.
• Texas' David Ash completed 30 of 37 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns, leading the Longhorns to a 41-36 victory over Oklahoma State. The Longhorns won the game on Joe Bergeron's 2-yard run with 29 seconds to play, after the Pokes took a 36-34 lead on a field goal with 2:34 to go. The Longhorns and Cowboys combined for 49 first downs and 1,016 yards of offense.
• Georgia freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall -- dubbed "Gurshall" by UGA fans in reference to 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker -- combined to run for 294 yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs' closer-than-expected victory over the Volunteers. The teams combined for 1,038 yards of offense and 46 first downs in the fifth-highest-scoring game for a non-overtime contest in SEC history.
• No. 22 Nebraska rallied from a 17-point deficit in the first half for a 30-27 victory over Wisconsin at Memorial Stadium. Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez guided the Cornhuskers to four straight scoring drives in the second half, running for 107 yards with one touchdown and passing for 181 with two scores.
• Northwestern produced a record-setting day of offense in jumping out to a 27-0 lead over Indiana before holding on for a 44-29 victory over the Hoosiers at Ryan Field. Junior Kain Colter, who opened the season as the Wildcats' quarterback, ran 14 times for 161 yards with four touchdowns and caught nine passes for 131 yards. The Wildcats and Ohio State are the last unbeaten Big Ten teams (the Buckeyes are ineligible for a Big Ten championship or bowl game because of NCAA sanctions) after Minnesota lost 31-13 at Iowa.
• Virginia Tech and Cincinnati combined for 897 yards of offense but struggled to find the end zone until the fourth quarter. After the Hokies went ahead 24-20 on Logan Thomas' 56-yard touchdown pass to Corey Fuller with less than minutes to play, Bearcats quarterback Munchie Legaux saved his best for last. He guided the Bearcats on an 85-yard touchdown drive to end the game, throwing a 39-yard touchdown to Damon Julian with 13 seconds left in a 27-24 victory at FedEx Field.
At least one team played defense and offense on Saturday. North Carolina, which is ineligible for a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, set a school scoring record and held Idaho to only nine first downs and 189 yards in a 66-0 rout in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Noles, Tigers save ACC from complete disaster
The rest of the ACC needs to send Florida State and Clemson a few thank-you notes on Monday.
During a weekend in which the ACC lost to the Big East, the WAC and the Sun Belt, the presence of a national title contender and two ranked teams couldn't be undervalued. No. 4-ranked FSU did what it was supposed to do and won its first road game of the season, avoiding a letdown against South Florida. Meanwhile, No. 17 Clemson did what it was supposed to do and beat a struggling Boston College team in Chestnut Hill.
Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Virginia didn't get the memo.
Georgia Tech had arguably the league's most embarrassing loss of the weekend, as Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh's defense rolled out the red carpet for Middle Tennessee in a 49-28 loss. MTSU is a better team than it was a season ago, but for the Jackets to lose at home and allow Benny Cunningham 217 rushing yards and five touchdowns made it seem like this team let the Miami game beat it twice.
"I told [MTSU] Coach [Rick] Stockstill after the game [that] they got after us, whipped our butt, and give them some credit, because they played hard," coach Paul Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "After saying that, it was embarrassing. I don't think there's any other way to describe it."
Groh might want to commiserate with Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. The Hokies' stagnant offense needs a defibrillator as much as the Jackets' D needs a cork. Virginia Tech's 27-24 loss to Cincinnati in the final minute left the Hokies at 0-2 this season against the Big East.
There's no question the ACC's image took a hit in Week 5, but it should be a little more bearable knowing that Florida State and Clemson weren't part of the disappointment.
'Comedy of errors' for Dawgs' special teams
ATHENS, Ga. -- Last season, Georgia's special teams were anything but special.
The Bulldogs could return the ball just fine, but stopping others from trampling on their special-teams unit or executing a consistent kicking game were major issues.
Fast-forward to 2012, and the Bulldogs again find themselves with special issues in a key part of the game.
The Bulldogs entered Saturday's game with Tennessee, a 51-44 win, in the middle of the SEC pack in returns -- kickoff and punts -- but left with all sorts of issues in both departments.
It started with wide receiver/cornerback Malcolm Mitchell not looking comfortable at all in fielding punts. On his first return, he was punished by Tennessee cornerback Eric Gordon because he didn't call for the fair catch with Gordon bearing down on him.
In the second quarter, his mistake was far more costly, as he hesitated to grab one of Matt Darr's kicks, letting it roll down to the 1-yard line. That eventually set Tennessee up with great field position, and the Vols scored a touchdown on their ensuing drive.
"That's tough. That's a bad field position situation," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
That was about Richt could stomach from Mitchell, as he benched him for junior receiver Rhett McGowan, who will now field punts, according to Richt.
"I need him to make good decisions," Richt said of McGowan, who has fielded two punts for 41 yards this season. "Come up and make the fair catch. I don't even care if he gets a lot of yards to return. Let's make good decisions on when to catch it and secure it."
The Bulldogs didn't do much on kickoffs, either, averaging just 12.7 yards on three returns. There was also that major blunder from freshman Todd Gurley, who muffed a kickoff and let the ball go out of bounds at the 1.
"Sometimes, you get a freshman back there, and those things happen," Richt said.
Both mistakes at the 1 helped Tennessee scoring drives.
So, it appears it's back to the drawing board when it comes to returners. Gurley, who has taken a kickoff back 100 yards for a score this season, probably won't lose his job, but it's clear he'll need a refresher on his technique. And Richt made a statement by benching Mitchell, one of his most talented players.
The woes continued when the Dawgs were kicking. Marshall Morgan clanked an extra point off the upright and had another one blocked. He's now missed three extra points this season. There were bobbled snaps, and punter Collin Barber averaged just 37.4 yards on five punts.
As Richt put it, special teams had a "comedy of errors" on Saturday.
Still, there were two major bright spots. Morgan nailed a 50-yarder to tie the game at 30 at the half, and the Bulldogs blocked a punt, which led to a touchdown drive in the third quarter.
But overall, things have to improve in the kicking and return game. Missed kicks and fielding blunders didn't cost the Bulldogs on Saturday, but they could down the road.
Is Oregon nation's second-best team?
SEATTLE -- Maybe Oregon really is the second-best team in the country. Maybe that's true, even if lowly Washington State trailed by four at the half Saturday before the Ducks pulled away.
If not, who is? Florida State messed around with South Florida for a half. Georgia had to claw to hang on at home against Tennessee. Everyone has had a moment, or moments, of weakness. I'll get to LSU's momentarily.
Oregon should get the nod if for no other reason than it survived seemingly unsurvivable CenturyLink Field, where the Green Bay Packers and then-No. 8 Stanford were dramatically felled in the past few days. The stadium's apple-flavored mojo ran out about the time Ducks safety Avery Patterson turned a Connor Halliday post pass into a pick-six, Oregon's third in two games, to put UO ahead by 16.
"I love the way we came out in the second half," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said, telling me he wasn't interested in talking big picture after the first month of the season. "We're 5-0. That's it. I didn't know we'd be 5-0 in August, so I guess I've learned that.
"But we don't look at the whole macro thing. I don't have time for that, to be honest with you. That's maybe something we do when the season's over."
So, he'll leave it to us for now. Fine.
On every radio hit I did last week, the question everyone wanted to know was this: Can the Ducks, now that USC has slipped, take the torch as the nation's hope of unseating the SEC? Can they defeat Alabama in January, if that's how it plays out? That's the biggest question coming out of Week 5.
To read the rest of Travis Haney's story, click here .
Three weekend observations
1. West Virginia wide receiver Stedman Bailey made a lot of good plays (13 catches for 303 yards, 5 touchdowns) Saturday and one really poor one. After he beat a double-team to catch a 47-yard scoring pass in the second quarter, Bailey jumped up and spiked the ball. Yes, he got a celebration penalty, and it stood out. The NCAA message to tone it down has been heard by everyone else. The Big 12 hadn't called a celebration penalty before Saturday. By the fifth touchdown, Bailey learned. He handed the ball to the official.
2. Of the 15 Top 25 teams that played unranked FBS opponents in Week 5, exactly three -- No. 6 South Carolina, No. 12 Texas and No. 17 Clemson -- outperformed the point spread. What I take from that is not that Vegas had a bad day, but that the onset of conference play means tighter games. Players and coaches are more familiar with one another. There are fewer rent-a-victims, they have a longer history, and both teams are more likely to absorb a blow and keep coming.
3. Two troubled programs that stumbled out of the gate this season are looking better. Penn State, which opened with two wrenching losses, has won three straight games after dominating at Illinois 35-7. Miami, humiliated (52-13) at Kansas State in Week 2, is 4-1 and the only 3-0 team in the ACC after defeating North Carolina State 44-37. Of the two, the Nittany Lions look for real. They have won two routs, one on the road. Miami, which has narrowly defeated teams with less talent, faces No. 10 Notre Dame next.
GameDay crew final thoughts
On this, the second-highest-scoring day in the history of the sport, I was struck not only by the precision of the offenses but even more by some poor defensive play. I still believe that the teams that play the best defense have the best shot at winning the national championship.
My beef with games like West Virginia-Baylor and Baylor-Washington in the Alamo Bowl game last season is that they don't make the offenses execute at a high level when the defenses make it too easy. I love seeing a great offense execute against a challenging defense. That's why I'm not a fan of those games. I'm a big fan of the players, I'm a big fan of the accomplishments, but the games and the way they're played aren't fun for me to watch.
I was really looking forward to seeing West Virginia against Texas' defense. But I think up to this point in the season, Texas' defense has underperformed, and if it performs the way it has recently, I think West Virginia will hang a (big) number on the Longhorns. But can West Virginia stop Texas? Because Texas' offense looks pretty good as well.
The other defense that has to step up its game to be a national championship contender is Georgia. I've said all season that I think Tennessee is a dangerous team. The quarterback and receivers it has are deficiency erasers, because they can make big enough plays to overcome their deficiencies. It's a capable offense, but I think Georgia's defense ought to be salty enough not to be giving up 44 points to anybody, even when turnovers put it in a bad position.
I loved watching Benny Cunningham from Middle Tennessee. That was just a phenomenal performance. The tougher, better team won that game. It was another tough day for the ACC losing to Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech. Louisiana Tech is a very good team and Middle Tennessee's a pretty good team, too, but the ACC keeps taking it on the chin. I know we've spent a lot of time focusing on the Big Ten, but beyond Florida State and Clemson, the ACC has had tough sledding.
Helmet stickers go to:
• RB Benny Cunningham, Middle Tennessee
217 rushing yards, 5 TDs in win at Georgia Tech
• RBs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley, Georgia
Combined for 294 rushing yards, 5 TDs in win versus Tennessee
I think Mark May summed it up best when he called it Walk-through Saturday. There weren't many big games, and consequently teams weren't at their absolute best. But they found a way to win, and I guess that's all that really matters.
South Carolina-Georgia is a big contest next week, as is Texas-West Virginia.
Great win by Texas at Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State was 8-0 at home the past two seasons. Oregon continues to roll.
I'm anxious to see next week, because now you're getting into conference races and some of the big conference games. You saw a little bit of that [Saturday]. You saw Wisconsin-Nebraska, Ohio State-Michigan State. Some of the best games we had were conference games.
The Big Ten is still disappointing to me. There's no dominant team there. Northwestern, with its five victories, looks like the best because Ohio State's not eligible, but until the Wildcats play somebody [who will challenge them], we won't know very much about them.
Nobody really looked super impressive [Saturday]. I'm still concerned about LSU. I know the Tigers were just trying to get by the past two weeks, but there are questions. They didn't execute in a lot of basic areas, and they better clean that up before they play Florida next week.
What's wrong with Virginia Tech? We know the Hokies are going to be questionable on offense, but their defense just can't get it done and stop anybody.
Alabama did what it had to do, and so did Oregon. It's just a matter of time before the Ducks hang 50 on somebody; it doesn't matter how they start or how sluggish they are.
That was a very, very gritty win by Oregon State at Arizona. Arizona gave the Beavers everything they wanted and more. It's one of those situations where it was a dogfight that went back and forth, but you've got to take your hat to [Oregon State head coach Mike] Riley. That was a team no one thought would do anything, and right now they're 3-0, they're starting to roll and they look good.
And Texas pulled one out, but I'm concerned about its defense. I can't wait to see how the Longhorns' defense plays against West Virginia.
And what can you say about West Virginia's Geno Smith? I mean, the guy tore it up. It's not his fault he doesn't play defense. That's not his deal. His deal is to go out and score and execute their offense, and he did that magnificently.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Geno Smith, West Virginia
656 passing yards, 8 TDs (both school records) in win versus Baylor
• QB Zac Dysert, Miami (Ohio)
516 passing yards, 6 TDs, 108 rushing yards in win at Akron
Highlights: Oregon State-Arizona
Blog Network: What we learned
It wasn't a good week for the ACC. This isn't for the squeamish. Or for the Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech fans who are still in denial.
The Big 12 has great offense, but its defenses are in for a long, long year.
Don't write USF off just yet. No one will be cheering about a 13-point loss to an in-state rival, but the Bulls more than held their own against FSU.
You might see this designation a few times this year in a truly wide-open, deeply flawed league, but Nebraska-Ohio State could be the Big Ten's game of the year.
It may be a long season for Cal, coach Jeff Tedford: Cal fell to 1-4 and 0-2 after getting handled fairly easily by the Sun Devils.
For a league that prides itself on defense, some eye-opening offensive numbers were generated Saturday.
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: Stephen Morris; Tajh Boyd; DeAndre Hopkins
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Geno Smith; Eric Ward; David Ash
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Munchie Legaux; Jory Johnson; Yawin Smallwood
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Michael Mauti; Kain Colter; Etienne Sabino
More Big Ten stickers
• Pac-12: Bishop Sankey; Brett Hundley; Kenjon Barner
More Pac-12 stickers
• SEC: Sanders Commings; Amari Cooper; Marcus Lattimore
More SEC stickers