Ten Things from Week Three
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Well, the first quarter of the season is done, and I do believe we are no closer to finding the best teams in the country than we were when the season started. While there was just one game featuring two ranked teams, there were plenty of road trips and games with conference title implications. Some have still yet to master the center-quarterback exchange, and the real season (read:conference play) is picking up. We say hello for the first time for the reigning Heisman champ, while one team said goodbye to its undisputed leader. All this and more in this week's Ten Things...
1. A Fallen Leader
Owen Thomas, a junior defensive end for the Penn Quakers, led his team to the Ivy League Title last season. He was second in the league in sacks. In Spring camps this year, out of 82 votes, he received 73 of them to become team captain. He was known in high school to play entire games without leaving the field. He was dominant on the field, and loved and admired off of it. On April 26th, though, he was found hanging in his dorm room. An autopsy revealed later that he had a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. It's a "progressive, degenerative brain disease that is caused by repetitive blows to the head", and had never been seen to such a degree in such a young person. What's more, he was never diagnosed with a concussion, and according to reports never even complained of headaches. As many of you know, there has been much scrutiny in the sport with regards to head injuries. Though most of the focus has been on concussions themselves, don't be surprised if more stories like this one surface.
2. PAC-10 vs. Big Ten
Three games involved teams from the two conferences (four if you count Nebraska, but that will technically be next year). The PAC-10 came up big in each one. USC traveled to Minnesota, where the Trojans seemed to toy with the Gophers before pulling away in the second half. The final margin of victory would have been greater without USC's curious decisions to go for two point conversions on three occasions. Arizona asserted their will in the wanning moments against Iowa, but more on that later. Even Arizona State showed promise. The Sun Devils, picked by some to finish near the bottom of the PAC-10 (thank goodness for Wazzu), gave the Badgers all they could handle and then some. If it weren't for a crucial tackle to end the first half (more on that later, as well) and a blocked extra point to end the game, the PAC-10 would have pulled off the hat trick. Of course, it wasn't the best weekend for the Big Ten, since some teams had trouble with the likes of UMass (Michigan) and Northern Iowa (Illinois) and needed a last second fake field goal in overtime to knock off Notre Dame (Michigan State).
3. Welcome back, Mark Ingram.
The reigning Heisman winner was dismissed by many in regards to a possible repeat, but 101 yards and a touchdown on his first three carries of his season was a great way to start. Ingram, who was sidelined for the first two weeks with a knee injury, finished with 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just nine rushes. It's far from a Heisman resume, but the field of candidates is so closely packed together (save Denard Robinson) that with a few more games like that, he could be right back in the discussion. This coming Saturday is a great day to show the country what he can do, when Alabama travels to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas which, after its scare against Georgia, could very well be a Top 10 team. If ESPN wasn't in love with Boise, think they might have chosen Fayetteville this week?
4. Team I'm Most Impressed With
Auburn Tigers - The Tigers of Auburn hosted the Tigers from Clemson, South Carolina in what wound up being one of the closest, most hard-hitting games we've seen this season. Auburn found themselves down 17-0 at home in the first half, and could have easily given up and thrown in the towel. They had every excuse, too. An inexperienced defense. A new starting quarterback. A running game that couldn't get going. After all, it seemed to be Redemption Saturday for ACC programs, with Virginia Tech and Florida State notching huge, much needed wins at home. Clemson looked like the one team to wave the ACC banner in someone else's backyard, an SEC yard to be exact. Alas, it was not meant to be as some fancy footwork by Ontario McCaleb on one sideline and Darvin Adams on the other each lead to third quarter touchdowns and a 17-17 score. Eventually, after countless injuries and a couple more touchdowns, the game was in overtime tied at 24. Auburn got the ball first and managed to kick a field goal. The defense, which had given up a couple key first downs on Clemson's game-tying drive ot a huge stop when Kyle Parker's pass bounced off the fingertips of Jaron Brown. Clemson's field goal attempt was good, and appeared to be ready for OT number two. But while penalties had plagued Auburn all game, it was Clemson who made the crucial mistake and got an illegal procedure penalty. The next attempt sailed wide left, and an abundance of emotion was released from both sidelines. In one of the best games of the season, both teams fought hard, but Auburn, with their determination and resolve, extended its win streak over the visiting Tigers to 14.
5. Team I'm Least Impressed With
Washington Huskies - Coming into the season, the hype was there. They had a coach with a championship ring and a Heisman candidate. Three games later, the Huskies are 1-2, Jake Locker is barely completing half of his passes, and they haven't played their first conference game in a loaded PAC-10. Against Nebraska, Locker was only able to complete four passes the entire game. A Heisman contender is supposed to step up in games like this - which is exactly what Taylor Martinez (aka this week's Denard Robinson impersonator) did. While Locker managed only 130 yards rushing and passing, the Husky defense allowed Martinez to run and pass for 287 yards and 4 touchdowns. If Washington thought they were ready for the big stage, they were wrong. The only thing they can do now is win in conference, and that starts this week with a road trip to USC.
6. Will the ACC ever recover?
Last week, the ACC went 0-4 against other teams in BCS conferences and Virginia Tech was embarrassed by James Madison. This week showed improvement, but not as much as fans would like to see. In four games against BCS conference opponents, the lone win was against Cincinnati. The good news was Virginia Tech and Florida State grabbing some big, much needed wins - though both were at home and against less than stellar teams. Also, Clemson had a chance to have the biggest non-conference win of the season for the ACC, but fell short in OT. Though the majority of the ACC teams play each other this week, there's two good barometers to see if the conference trend is going up or will continue to fall. Miami at Pittsburghs will be the the Thursday night marquee game, and North Carolina goes on the road Saturday to try for its first win of the year against Rutgers. Here's hoping they can right the ship and get a leg up on the Big East.
7. Fundamentals, Fundamentals, Fundamentals
It still never ceases to amaze me how little attention the little things get. After the first week, when a simple snap was bumbled repeatedly by Florida, you would think that teams would pay closer attention, right? The first possession of the game for Texas Tech - the first play, in fact - resulted in a fumbled snap and turnover. Texas scored on the very next play. Sure the game was decided by ten points not seven, but you got to figure giving up a touchdown on a mental error that early in the game set the tone.
8. Individual Performance of the Week
Shelton Johnson, S, Wisconsin. When a kick returner breaks loose to score, it can be disheartening. When a different returner does the same thing in the same half, it can be very easy not to chase him down. Just save your energy for the next time, right? Wrong. When Wisconsin scored to take the lead with ten seconds left in the first half, Arizona State's Kyle Middlebrooks was off and running for the touchdown. Johnson would have none of it, and chased him down, tackling him at the one yard line to help preserve the Badger lead. It was a model of never giving up on the play, and a moment to be used by coaches for a long time.
9. Game of the Week Review, Iowa at Arizona
Iowa hasn't won a game West of the Rockies in my lifetime. It looked as if that streak would come to an end as the Hawkeyes fought back from a 27-7 halftime deficit to tie it half way through the fourth quarter. With all the momentum going against them, the Wildcats, led by QB Nick Foles, marched down the field for the go ahead touchdown. Their defense reciprocated, sacking the Hawkeyes' Ricky Stanzi four straight times to close out the game. Whoever says they don't play defense out west should have stayed up to see Iowa get sandbagged, and Arizona step up when it needed to the most.
10. Game of the Week Preview
I know Gameday will be in Boise to see the blue turf in person. While they will be in the middle of nowhere, the game of the week will be in Fayetteville, Arkansas as two top 10 teams, Alabama and Arkansas, go head to head. Both teams have great offense and largely untested defenses, but that will change this weekend. The Crimson Tide, led by Greg McElroy (who currently leads the nation in pass efficiency) and Mark Ingram will hit the road for the first time this season to face Arkansas, led by future NFL gunslinger Ryan Mallet. There will be points aplenty for sure, and the winner gets the inside track at the SEC Championship Game, Look for defensively minded Saban to bring home the W, even though Arkansas will put up more points in one game than the Tide have allowed all season. Final score, 48-31
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